I am a very competitive person. Ask anyone who knows me. I will get equally intense in a friendly card game as I do in a high-stakes tennis match. My adrenaline is pumping, my excitement level is high from the thrill of the match-up, and I can’t help but feel like I was kicked down a few pegs if the result isn’t in my favor.
I don’t know where this competitive nature comes from. Maybe I was born with it. Maybe it’s the result of playing and watching sports and contests since a young age. Maybe it’s because I grew up with an equally competitive older brother who, like me, made a fierce competition out of everything – from vacation mini golf to Playstation games to being the first the finish the math problems that my dad would write down on restaurant’s paper place mats.
I feel as though there are a lot of good things that come from being competitive. It motivates me to push myself to the absolute limit of my abilities. Because if I’m not competing with others, I’m competing with myself and striving to prove myself as improved from the past. Being competitive has allowed me to feel a wide range of emotions – from the high highs that come with being successful in something that is very important to me, to the low lows of feeling like I failed at something that was within my grasp.
The high highs are a unique type of satisfaction that comes not so much from beating someone else but more so from proving to myself my own capabilities. The low lows, on the other hand, may suck and get me pretty down temporarily, but they also serve as learning lessons or funny stories to tell (sometimes both).
Take, for example, my failed seventh grade softball career. During the season I had only one single hit, causing my batting average to fall below 0.100. I had maybe one good catch the entire season (in right field where they stuck me in hopes that no ball would ever come my way). I was so ashamed of my lack of softball skills that I couldn’t make eye contact with the coaches. But, years later, my softball experience transformed from a failure to a story that would have people clutching their stomachs from laughing so hard.
However, there are some downsides to this competitiveness. The biggest one being that I constantly compare myself to others in terms skills, abilities, appearance, decisions, etc. And this isn’t because I want to be better than the people I compare myself to; it’s because a lot of the time I can’t help but feel inadequate compared to people who are more athletic, more intelligent, skinnier, taller, better prepared, more talented and so much else.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a confident person. I love who I am and I know that I have a lot to offer the world and the people around me. But everyone compares themselves to others, and my competitive nature just accelerates and intensifies this process. I think the biggest thing that I feel self-conscious about is my choice of major in college. I’m majoring in film and political science, two fields that excite and enthrall me, but it’s hard to ignore the seemingly ever-present pressures of society to do something that has more job security, study something that will actually benefit the world, major in something that’s actually challenging.
I hate feeling hesitant to tell people that my primary major is film because I can just hear the doubts that are running through their minds – I’ll never get a job, that’s a pipe dream, I won’t be able to support myself financially, etc. And when it comes to classmates, I’m also hesitant because I’m afraid I’ll face criticism for not choosing something harder. Some (not all, but some) engineers or STEM majors will describe their mountains of homework and exams, will say things like “I wish I had your workload,” and will make me feel like I’m not working hard enough or I’m taking the easy way out.
The reality is that I’m doing what I love. I’m doing what makes me happy. I could probably hold my own if I had decided to major in engineering or something similar, but I wouldn’t be excelling and I wouldn’t be as happy. I didn’t purposefully choose majors because they were “easy” (even though I don’t believe they are), I chose them because I knew they were areas in which I would be able to make a real contribution if I combined my talents and strong education.
I don’t know what I will do with my future. It’s true that the job security in my chosen fields is not the same as a lot of the STEM fields. But the one thing that I can be absolutely certain about is the effort that I choose to put into whatever I do. Motivation and willingness to think outside of the box are two of my strong suits and two things that I am confident in.
So for now, I have to focus on myself and doing the best that I can. I need to cut down on the comparisons. I wish everyone else would do the same and just mind their own business without passing judgment onto the work or decisions of others, but this is the nature of life. As long as I’m doing what I love and surrounding myself with people who support me, I can’t really complain.
Life itself is not a competition. You won’t find me challenging the decisions of others in terms of what they want to do with their lives.
But I’ll challenge you any day to a game of poker.