The idea of competition is rooted in how humans perceive each other. Envy and jealousy have as much to do with competitive spirit as a drive to succeed. Many wonder if Napoleon Bonaparte’s conquests across Europe were mere compensation for his short stature, earning ‘inferiority complex’ a new moniker: the ’Napoleon complex.’
Competition is necessary in economics to keep prices low and businesses in check. Competition makes sports exciting. Competing against others often provokes people to do great things and aspire to new heights, but winning is not everything. Competitiveness seeks a clear winner, while compromise and bipartisanship aspire to create success across the board. Often these different approaches to conflict are mutually exclusive.
The only real competition, when push comes to shove, is with yourself. People who set their own goals need only to compete with their former selves, as they push forward and accomplish the change they set out for.
You compete against your former self
As Ernest Hemingway wrote in The Old Man and the Sea, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
Life is a series of deaths. Faults perish each time they are improved upon. In this way, think of yourself as two, a person needed to be improved upon and another person striving to make that change. Superiority over others does not make a person great, it makes him competitive. Your former self is your only true competition in the universe.
People can only set their own goals
An imposed goal does not reflect the aspirations of the person who carries it out. A boss can set goals for her employees, sure. Personal goals, however, come from within. A decision to eat better or read more will only come to fruition if the person who makes it truly wants to be healthier or better-read. While others can try to influence a person’s goals in ways they think are beneficial, that change is only meaningful once a person decides personally to accomplish something.
What if other people aren’t real
Given the subjective nature of our existence, it is theoretically impossible to know for sure that other people are conscious individuals. There is always a chance that you are the only cognitive being in the universe, that everyone exists as a function of you. There might be a term for this kind of thinking other than narcissism, but regardless, this possibility would render all comparisons with the outside world to be meaningless. A person in this universe couldn’t possibly be envious of another if that other person was an extension of his mind.
Don’t let other peoples’ competitiveness define your own
Competition for the sake of competition is not productive. People with different competitive sensibilities exist on a spectrum together in the world. Some enjoy the act of doing something more than the satisfaction that winning or succeeding at it will bring them. On the other hand, some care more about winning or losing than what it is they are actually doing. These people find competition in anything, and often impose the competitive spirit on those trying to keep things recreational. So, try not to force competition where it isn’t called for.
Proving things to the self is harder than proving it to other
People are their own harshest critics. The criticism a person gets from a teacher after a bad grade will pale in comparison to the judgement they pass on themselves while looking over the test. However, tests can be cheated on and people can be lied to. The only person in the world who won’t believe a lie is the person who utters it. You know you’re lying to yourself when you say ‘it’s fine’ after spending thirty dollars on seafood pasta and a negroni with only fifty left in your account. The self-lie is a mere way to postpone the terrible realization that you’ve done something irresponsible. The thinker of that lie knows what the truth is and understands that the lie functions to offset financial stress. However, it’s easy to tell a teacher that you did the assigned reading even when you did not, especially if you can back it up your claim with general information gleaned from Sparknotes. The satisfaction of pulling off that lie however will not make a person feel better about an education not taken advantage off. Creating an image of success will not make a person successful. True success comes from within.
Everyone is different
Competition hinges on the notion that people are all the same. In sports there are clear guidelines that give way to competitiveness. However, success in life cannot be measured like the score of a game, or the stats of a player. Success is measured by the same place that it comes from, within. Everyone goes their own way; we compare ourselves to others because we are all alone together.