I was about seven or eight years old the first time I was told, “It’s not good to compare yourself to others.”
Since then, I’ve heard it several times in many different guises.
I’m hardly alone.
Most of us are told and even know, rationally speaking, that comparing ourselves to others and constant competition is not good for us mentally, spiritually or even financially. (Think of all those stories we hear about those who try to “keep up with the Joneses” and end up in debt.)
Many of us like to think we are above that but the truth is, if we are brutally honest with ourselves, we often find that we aren’t immune from that. Even those of us who don’t consider ourselves especially competitive can sometimes find ourselveson that track with no idea how we got there.
I speak as someone who, a year or so ago, was surprised to find herself being one of those competitive parents I used to make fun of back in the day. My question to myself was: how did I end up here?
Fortunately, there is a way to reign ourselves in whether we are fully aware that we are entering that track or like myself, just realize one day that we are there and have no idea how we got there.
Therefore, keep the following in the mind the next time the competition bug bites:
1. Ask ourselves why are we doing this and who is this for?
Frankly, there is nothing wrong in and of itself with wanting to aspire to more be it a job promotion, getting into a good college program, or wanting to upgrade to a better car or home.
There is also nothing wrong with wanting the best for our children.
However, do we want this primarily to impress others or feel that doing so will “prove” something to others?
If our reasons for wanting something is dependent on what we think others will think about us, then that is usually a good sign that we are in the competition mode.
The truth is, there is always going to be someone who has more money, more talent, a better job title, or a seemingly “better” life than we have. However, these people are not perfect. They also have problems. In some cases, they may even have more complex, problematic lives that we could ever dream of because the image of perfection often masks the other stuff that may be lurking there.
Likewise, in the case of competitive parenting, it’s important to ask ourselves if we really want the best for our child or if we are trying to live vicariously through our child.
2. Let go of the notion that life is a race and at the end of it we are awarded prizes for how we place.
The truth is, success and accomplishments can mean radically different things to different people. Many of us have heard that when one is on their deathbed they don’t say, “I should have spent more time at the office.” The same can also be said that no one says, “I wish I was dying with more stuff or more impressive titles.”
Despite that popular expression that goes he who dies with the most toys wins, the truth is, few of us are remembered for the stuff we owned, the size of our home, or the amount of money we had in the bank.
Most of us are remembered for our actions or at least that’s what we want.
3. Check in frequently and often with ourselves to see if we are truly happy.
Happiness is one of those things that we can truly only determine for ourselves. Other people may envy us and even long for our lives but if we aren’t truly happy, then it doesn’t matter what one or one billion other people think.
If having the “perfect” home, job, etc. is not doing it for you, then nothing else really matters.
It’s up to each of us to find out what needs to be done to remedy the situation but usually, getting out of the competitive mode and stop living for others is a good place to start.
In conclusion, competition in and of itself may not be a bad thing, but being in constant competition and believing that we always need to prove something or be number one can be destructive. At the very least, it may distract us from what we really want in life and more importantly, what we really need to be happy.
While none of us is immune from feeling this way from time to time, there is way to keep the competition bug from overtaking our lives and even getting off that track if we desire.
At the very least, it’s worth a try.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Paul Townsend/Flickr