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Isabel Song Headshot

Competition Doesn't Have to Be a Life-Sucking Monster

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"A little competition never hurt anybody."

Maybe so, but what happens when competition escalates, when the pressure to be the best becomes overwhelming, and when the competition is all that matters anymore? What happens when you're treated as a failure when you don't beat out the competition, even if you did exemplify self-improvement? Not so healthy then.

Competition can get brutal, painful and damaging, especially when you walk along the thin line between competition and jealousy. One little slip, and going back into "friendly competition" territory is hard. Competition is nerve-wracking; it demands everything and drains your energy, physically and/or mentally. It endorses stress.

Honestly, I have an aversion with how competition is centered on one-upping those surrounding us. Will I score more points than her on the field tomorrow? How strong does my academic profile look in comparison to the genius at my school? She's taking three AP classes, so I need to take at least four.

Doesn't it seem rather unhealthy to devote your entire life to ousting your foes? What is she doing? What is he doing? But what about what you're doing?

Competition can be good -- if it's changed in the right way so that it's no longer really competition. It should be reoriented so that it's really just a challenge of how well you can do, not how well you can do in comparison to others. People need to start focusing on how to improve themselves and do their best rather than focusing on the "competition."

It may seem like a small difference, working to be better than others versus working to improve yourself, especially if you put in the same amount of effort. After all, if you're playing soccer and work on your aim to score more points than your rival in the next game, isn't that the same as working on your aim to score more points than you did in the last game? No. The mindset is different. The goal is different. The latter brings the focus back to you and brings the satisfaction of self-improvement. There's no more performing better only to make someone else seem worse. Your only competition is yourself.

Focusing on being better than somebody else is negative since it's about bringing someone else down, but focusing on improving yourself is full of positives. It may seem like a minute difference, but the difference is there.

Besides, if you're already focused on doing your best every day and give everything your all, does it really matter what the "competition" does? Will it have changed your performance if you already pushed yourself to your current maximum capacity? Shouldn't you already be doing everything you can, regardless of what others are doing?

I'm constantly exasperated when people, upon hearing the names of a few colleges I'm going to apply to when I'm a senior, exclaim, "You have some stiff competition!" I don't want to see anything as competition, and I don't want to think of my friends and peers as enemies. Sure, the applicant pool at the colleges I want to apply to have really amazing profiles. Even so, I don't want to turn my life into a game where I do everything just to be better than other people.

I don't want the "competition" to turn into a life-sucking monster, and I refuse to let it define me. I will never be scared out of applying to my dream schools because I'm intimidated by the "competition." They're doing their all, but so am I. As long as I'm doing my best, I'm okay with whatever outcome I end up with.

Instead of seeing everyone as competition, I chose to genuinely celebrate the achievements and victories of other students around me. I chose to let the amazing milestones in my friends' lives inspire and empower me, and I let the light of those events show me that anything is possible. I would rather die than turn my friends' beautiful achievements into something ugly, something that makes me green with jealousy and worry about how I'll look to colleges compared to my friends.

I focus on being the best me I can be. I challenge myself to do and be more because I want to improve who I am, not because I want to be better than somebody else. I strive every day to be a better me than I was the day before. I look for such opportunities everywhere and face life with a no-holds barred attitude. Furthermore, I desist from doing things because it'll make me "stand out in the competition" or because "the rest of the competition is doing it." If I do something, it's because I honestly want to do it and have a true interest that runs past my college applications.

For example, I'm not going to be a National Honor Society officer at my school next year because of how it looks on my profile; I'm doing it because I love the challenges that come with being a student leader and because I believe I can use my position to make a difference in my school and community. I believe in the position and the society's message. Additionally, I don't volunteer at the hospital because it makes me look good and keeps me afloat in the competition. I do it because I really do enjoy volunteering, it's another way for me to make a difference, and it reminds me a part of why I push myself: to become a doctor who makes a difference in her patients' lives. (I can go on and on about what I do and why, but I'll refrain myself.)

I don't remember exactly when I realized that competition isn't more than a shallow mindset and realized that giving every day my whole being is a form of success, even if the outcome written on paper is failure. All I know is that ever since I started going after life in this way, it's brought in a lot of light and lifted considerable weight off of my shoulders.

So the next time someone asks me how I feel about the competition, he/she should expect this response: I don't see people as competition. I think that's an unhealthy preoccupation, and the only apparent "competition" or person standing in my way is myself. My own self-improvement is my cynosure. I work hard for my own benefit. At the end of the day, all that really matters to me is that I did my best and gave it my all. As long as I didn't hold back and did everything I could, I'd be fine with anything, even rejection.

And honestly? For me, this -- celebrating other's achievements, being unconcerned with "competition," and just giving life everything I have -- is a much more beautiful way to live.