Competition by Subhadra Jayaraman

It is the only concept that bothers me more than ‘examination’. Not because these concepts are inherently flawed, but because in practice they are utterly misused and lead to both localized and systemic harboring of ill feelings, anxiety, and general upheaval. And all this is due to the nature of humans to not be able to respond or act using common sense. The sense of competitiveness often only ends in the upending of the game board, a scream fest, sulks, pouts, and frowns. ‘Some competition is always good’ is a sentence we all hear often. From our parents, teachers, friends, and superiors. It is a condition that is milked to increase productivity, creativity, and success. But according to me, competition is an illusion we created because just motivation and positive reinforcement is never deemed to be enough. Because we are led to believe that inherently, humans are incapable of functioning on just a purpose, and they have to be fed an added enthusiasm. Enter competition. The gentle nudge to be better, be smarter, be more powerful, get more points, check off more boxes, earn more money, get more clients, get more customers than others. The gentle nudge that then becomes a vigorous shove and an unstoppable impetus, like a snowball rolling off a peak and turning into an avalanche.

In our personal lives, competitiveness is an addiction. Akin to “just one drink” becoming four, then five, and then countless oblivion, “just a harmless competition” becomes a war in every aspect of life. I have to earn more money than her, get married before her, visit more countries than him, have kids who are smarter than his, accumulate more degrees than them, the list is endless. It drains the life out of us, being constantly competitive. It makes life itself meaningless, because now we live to be better than someone else, not live life on our own terms. We have learnt to feel elated and thrilled not because we climbed that mountain, but because we did it first, and before all our friends did. We set an age limit to things (marriage, graduation, childbirth, etc.), because inherently we are competing with others of our age. 

Now, on to a professional landscape. We are almost eight billion in number. To keep our place in this world, we are required to be unique. It is, however, probabilistically impossible for us to be wholly unique. Career management courses will teach you to ‘stand out’ and not blend in, not become a wallflower, not be a brick in the wall if you want to advance yourself. There are too many people vying for a handful of jobs, and you don’t stand a chance if you are not better than them in some way, and preferably in many ways. You are constantly asked to prove yourself. “Why do you think you are the best candidate for this job?” But the truth is that there is a place for mediocrity in this world too. If you aren’t competitive, you just don’t get to be CEO, you can still be a smaller level associate, and stay there. Quite peacefully, even. But if you do desire to live like a king, being competitive, and ruthlessly so may be one of your most viable options to survive in any industry. 

Being competitive comes at a price. It requires energy, it requires sacrifice, it requires some level of brutality, and it definitely requires sustenance.  It is rewarding, no doubt, but only if the rewards keep accumulating. When of a competitive nature, one tends to take failures very poorly, while on the other hand, when not competing, failures are but a phenomenon. It is far more peaceful, both mentally and physically, to develop an outlook that doesn’t involve performing better than others. Don’t think of yourself as a horse on a race track that has to catch up or outrun the other horses, but as a flower, which irrespective of its neighboring flowers, just blooms. 

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