Toxic Competition Between
August 16th, 2020
What is competition like between teenagers? When does it go too far? What can teenagers do to cultivate an environment of support rather than toxic competition?
Competition. It's a part of our lives, whether we love it or hate it. Where would we be without it? Without it, we might not have computers in our pockets or moving pictures on big screens. But on a daily basis, we might be happier and less stressed. Competition is definitely a double-edged sword. If you're a human—hopefully you are—you've been jealous, and it's okay to admit that.
Other people’s accomplishments, most of the time, have no effect on our own. Our own paths, our own successes, our own futures.
So… why aren’t we happy when other people succeed?
If other people didn’t succeed, you wouldn’t have your phone. You wouldn’t have your favorite movie or your favorite book. You wouldn’t have your favorite things in life.
There are cases when someone steps all over you to get ahead and then succeeds. That stings, and it is understandable why it hurts. When someone who cheats and steals and exploits succeeds, it is no wonder why we might not be overjoyed. Yet, when a classmate we don’t even know just got her name in the newspaper, why do we feel a twinge of jealousy? I remember countless times when the undesirable yet familiar tang of bitterness has seeped into the back of my throat for no good reason.
It doesn’t make any sense. Our ability to be jealous can spread like wildfire from relatively logical situations to completely irrational ones. Sometimes, our human nature can really flare up and we can even feel a twinge of pleasure when other people fail. It’s one of the worst parts of the way our brains are wired, and I wish it wasn’t that way.
Luckily, it doesn’t always have to be.
Imagine how free you would feel if other people’s achievements and talents didn’t have any sway on your mental health. Your life is your life. Your mind is your mind. If you stripped off the envy that was always gnawing at you, maybe you wouldn’t expect such impossible things from yourself. Your mind wouldn’t constantly breed expectations that don’t make any sense, like writing better than the future author in your class or drawing better than the artist in your friend group when your talents, desires, and goals point in an entirely different direction. Even if someone’s life goals line up exactly to your own, the world is big enough for the two of you amazing people. Another person’s achievements do not dampen yours in the slightest and are not an accurate prediction of how the future will play out. Someday, you will probably benefit from their talent. Maybe you think… “I wish I was him. I wish I was her. That is exactly what I wanted for myself.” I've been there, and my mind still goes there.Yet, there are some things about you that they want, some things that you do they wish they could do, so many parts of you that they wish they could adopt.
It will take a bit of psychological brain-retraining, and it will take a bit of self-sacrifice. It won’t feel good. But the more you manually celebrate other people’s successes, the more real that joy will become. Don't be too hard on yourself when your human nature rebels, but keep pushing forward with a goal in mind. Remember: you won’t lose a thing by learning to be happy for other people. You can only gain.
Shai, when are some times that you’ve seen toxic competition create an irrational situation that didn’t help either side involved? What are some practical ways that we can create a better environment at school?
- Brooke Johnston
I really love how you talked about competition. I definitely needed this. I am a very competitive person; I surround myself with competition, make sure that I am around people that motivate me and push me even harder to do better.
I think it's important that we first distinguish between two different types of competition: the toxic one and the positive one. What I mean by toxic competition is exactly what you said Brooke, it's the envious feeling you get when you see someone other than you succeed or accomplish something. These toxic competitions start when you compare yourself to other people so much that you lose sight of yourself. It's rooted from insecurity and years of looking at others except yourself. We have all been there before. Up until today, I still find myself comparing myself to other people: what they’re doing, how many tournaments they’ve won, the list goes on and on. However, I’ve gotten a lot better. Being alone in quarantine has made me realize that my life is my life. My worth is not determined by my “successes” or “accomplishments." I’ve learned that not everything in life isn’t a competition.
Today, I surround myself in a positive competitive environment. For example, I go to Global Prep Academy. Some of the most brilliant, talented, and hard-working people I know go there. We all have high hopes and are all so driven. Sometimes I find myself comparing myself to what they’ve all accomplished. And boy, have they accomplished a lot. However, I have learned that we are all on the same team. Everyone at GPA hustles and that motivates me to stay on top of what I do. We are all learning from each other and working with one another to make sure that we are on top of what we have to complete.
I’ve come to a conclusion that the biggest competitor in our life is ourselves.
We need to wrestle with our own minds daily and remind ourselves that everyone is doing something to benefit themselves. In order to get out of that toxic competition mindset, we need to learn how to focus on ourselves and keep our heads down. It starts by fighting for what YOU want, instead of fighting for expectations of others. Today, I still look for validation in what I do and that is a struggle that I have to learn how to overcome.
I really liked what you said about celebrating other people’s victories. It’s definitely easier said than done. But, like Brooke said, it does take a little bit of brain-retraining. Really ask yourself, “wouldn’t you want people to be happy for your accomplishments?” I am so happy when I see my friends do something great. I am so proud of each and every one of my friends for whatever they’ve achieved. But, shamefully, I wasn’t always like that. It took a lot of self-reflection and inward thinking before I could even get there. But it all circles back to realizing that you are your own person and really letting go of any thoughts holding you back.
I truly believe that if we all take a moment to find ourselves, we can be happier for each other and it will reflect on a more positive environment at school/home wherever. It takes time, but start here with us. I know I have a long road of brain re-training to do.
Speaking of self-reflection, Brooke and I are reading an incredible poetry book called Inward by Yung Pueblo. It is so raw and beautifully written. I definitely think it will help you on your own journey of being comfortable in your own body and finding yourself.
- Shaira Busnawi
Amen!!!!! You sound like a true philosopher. Competition, like most things in our world, is a good thing that is easily corrupted. I’m taking Economics at school right now and we are going to dive into the importance of competition. It does a lot for our world, but if it doesn’t blossom correctly in our hearts, it can spoil our minds.
So if you’ve been feeling down on yourself because of others’ accomplishments or are plagued with the need to do everything perfectly, how can we prevent that?
I really like how you recognized that our biggest opponent, our biggest competitor, the person who is never satisfied no matter what we do, is ourselves. We may become that way because of someone else putting pressure on us to succeed, or it can be organic. Either way, we often find ourselves at war with ourselves, in a brawl that has led us far from the peace of mind.
There is no one-size-fits-all, but I think that going somewhere calming and doing nothing, thinking about nothing, and thinking about no one can be beneficial. It is overwhelming at first, and it can take many minutes before your mind stops its whirring, like a rollercoaster that needs time to come to a halt. The goal is to think about nothing. Give yourself permission to dismiss all of the thoughts that follow you all day, every day, for a good while. Allow yourself to be someone separate from your environment. I hope that practice can be a thorough “spring cleaning” for your mind.
It doesn’t work for everyone! Another thing that I suggest is to really examine your insecurities. We tend to notice and point out aspects of other people that we don’t like about ourselves, because we are so preoccupied with that thing all the time. It takes time, but you can accept and love the parts of yourself that you are insecure about. After doing so, you will probably find that you are in a happier, more relaxed headspace, and you will even be happier for other people! Because you aren’t absorbed by your own insecurities, you won’t see as many flaws in other people, and you will hopefully find happiness in their successes.
Lastly, I would work to adopt a constant mindset of gratitude.
When you are grateful for the opportunities that you have, the jealousy and bitterness begins to fade. Journaling your gratitude, starting your morning in thankful prayer or reflection, and telling people that you are thankful for them can lead your mind to a place of peace. Sometimes, when the world feels like it is caving in on us, the notion of being grateful makes us angry. That is completely understandable, and I don’t think you should just sarcastically rattle off what you’re thankful for when you’re angry. However, I think that we could all stand to be more grateful in our everyday life, and doing so might prevent the buildup of stress and anger within us in the first place.
I need to train my brain all. the. time. I can slip way too easily into a headspace of competition, but when I am able to rewire my mindset, I’ve been able to be productive, peaceful, and happy.
Shaira, I’m happy that you’ve found a team that has helped you bask in the beauty of positive competition and encouragement. I hope that you can find more peace every day and find a productive, peaceful truce with the biggest critic and competitor within you.
- Brooke Johnston
Yes Brooke! I literally loved everything you mentioned: from examining our insecurities to adopting a constant mindset of gratitude.
I really want to end today’s journal off by reminding all of our readers that mental wellness is a journey, and that we all have a long way to go. I think it’s important to talk about your feelings and realize when you fall back into a toxic mindset. Obviously, this doesn’t happen overnight.
Like Brooke said, there is no one-size- fits all. So trust the process and focus on your journey and your pathway.
Remember that the only competition is between yourselves.
- Shaira Busnawi