Remember school? What about the countless number of tests we were subjected to that always seemed so pointless to us? I remember it all too well. I was always that serious child who got far too worked up about anything that would give me a grade or result. And on the event that I did badly and my friends didn’t: that really was the worst.
It’s this issue of comparison. People often ask their peers how they do on exams and other testing methods. If I have learned one thing, it is that people don’t normally ask sorely out of interest, but as a way of determining their own level of success. A result or grade ultimately rests on its stance next to others’ and has the power to completely alter our feelings towards our own.
Think back to school. You get a low to average mark in a test: it rests below your usual standard. But rest assured, your peers did poorly too – even that annoying kid who always seems to get everything right. Suddenly you feel better. You’ll put the poor result down to an unfair exam rather than feeling negative about yourself. Ultimately, it puts things into perspective for you.
Now think about a time you did really well in an exam. The mark was above your average. Your pride is boosted; your smile enlightened. Then you find out that others did just as well, or even better! Did it ever impact your feelings towards your own achievement? I remember my heart always sank when that happened. It altered my positive attitude and pride towards it every time.
It seems that the validity of our achievements is measured through its comparison to other people’s.
So where does this mindset come from?
We can always look to the basic rules of nature in the animal kingdom. There is constant competition for food, territory and mates. Some species of animals even battle it out for a leader of the pack. Naturally we would have inherited some of this mentality and adapted it into the civilisation we occupy. However, have we been socialised to take it too far?
When I was 7, I was of the age when we undertook SATs in school and I came home with the level I had obtained to my parents. They were told by letter that the grade I had achieved was one to be happy with, and so they were. That was until the following day when they found out from fellow parents that some children had attained higher.
Suddenly, they were disappointed.
As a result, I was sent to private tuition up until I was 11 and my performance in school was closely monitored – against other classmates’, of course. I was considered up to standard as long as I hit the same grades that the ‘clever kids’ got.
Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for the extra help and I benefited massively from it. I went on to achieve some GCSE grades that I was really proud of, and continue to be proud of to this very day. That isn’t the point. The catalyst for the tuition taught and instilled the wrong message into me: to be better than others over the best of myself. It’s a mindset I have unfortunately digested and carried through life with me.
So what happens when this competitive mindset is solidly instilled into us?
To me, it can interfere with even the little things in life. I was only taught to be the best, not how to deal with or be content with not being the best. It puts bitterness into my heart. I feel contempt towards any competitor – which will stop at nothing.
Fellow job candidates maybe one can understand, but what about feeling contempt towards your closest friends when they score higher in a game?
It isn’t a support system, it’s a battle.
I may be able to mask my inner bitterness towards other competitors, but I cannot make myself numb to the disappointment that slices through me like a knife. It dwells into an unlimited supply of self-doubt and self-loathing. It becomes impossible to feel appeased with myself.
Soon enough, it manifests into severe low self-esteem.
And how are we not supposed to feel negatively towards the things and people that threaten us? For that is what society and our surroundings have effectively taught us. From parents pitting and comparing their children against others to people competing against each other for a love interest’s affection.
Today’s media is one of our worst enemies for it. Just take a look at a few of these recent article titles:
- ‘Fashion Faceoff: Who Wore It Better?’ (People, February 2019).
- ‘Hottest Celeb Post-Baby Bods’ (Us Weekly, April 2019).
- ‘The Best Celebrity Parents of 2018’ (Ranker, December 2018).
- ‘Hottest Celebrity Men at the Beach in Swim Trunks, Shirtless’ (Us Weekly, May 2019).
The list is limitless and we’re exposed to this toxic mindset every single day. Notice the message within them: ‘Hottest’ this, ‘Best’ that. It’s only natural that eventually we will be sucked into this ideology ourselves.
We’re socialised into a universal definition of success which almost completely cancels out room and tolerance to consider the fact that every person’s journey and achievements are different and valid in their own way.
We should set our mindset and aim to being the BEST of OURSELVES, not the BEST out of EVERYONE ELSE.
Of course, there are certain situations that do genuinely require you to be the best out of everyone else, for example, during job interviews. However, if you retain the former mindset (being the BEST of YOURSELF), you will still fulfill your own individual responsibility needed for that interview. It may also minus the length of contempt and disappointment you may feel towards other competitors than if you had adapted the latter mindset (being the BEST out of EVERYONE ELSE).
You can work your whole life and still fail to be the best out of everyone else. However, if you work your hardest to achieve the best from yourself, you will always succeed.