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Competition: When does competitiveness become unhealthy?

I used to swim in competitions for a few years when I was younger. I remember getting nervous right before every swim trial. My hands used to get sweaty, my heartbeat increased, my whole-body shook. The moment I dived into the pool, all the anxiety was gone, and my body just became one with the water. I could no longer hear other people yelling from the benches, I was only focused on my moves. And of course, I badly wanted to win.


When years later I told my parents I wanted to quit professional swimming, they looked at me as if I were speaking in a language they could not understand. My dad told me how disappointed he was in me for quitting after such a big investment. My mom told me she understood, since I could not handle the competition.


For a long time, these words echoed inside me, and I stopped swimming for good. Lately I picked up swimming as a hobby and reconnected with a part of myself which was half asleep. Being in the water grounds me, it brings me peace.

Finally, I realized that competition was never my problem. On the contrary, the need for competitiveness I have in me is so strong, that sometimes I am even intimated by it.


I have also recognized how my competitiveness impacts other aspects of my life. When I must perform a task, at work or in a more personal setting, I constantly feel that I am in a competition. I tell myself I must perform faster and better which can be extremely tiring. One of the reasons why I usually prefer to work alone, rather than as a team. Not because I am afraid of competition, but because of how competitive I am.


Being competitive surely has its advantages. Learning quicker, aiming higher, and overcoming oneself are examples of a competitive self. It is not all roses though. Neither for the person who thrives on competition nor for the people around them.


It can feel a bit lonely to live in constant competition. Often it feels as if we were stuck in that old caveman age when it was an everyday live or die scenario. The brain gets into survival mode, being in constant alertness, prepared to face any danger at any time. Surely the 21st century dangers are not the same as they were thousands or even million years ago, neither are the ways of competing. Nonetheless, mind and body must carry still the overload and tension that being in a constant state of alert and competition means.


In other words, competition can be healthy as long as it makes us strive for better, for ourselves as much as for others. When everything starts to feel like a competition, then it is time to pause and evaluate the benefits versus the damages of being over-competitive. Perhaps it is an opportunity to explore other ways of thriving that involve collaboration and cooperation toward self and collective growth.


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