Is competition between students in university healthy, or discouraging?

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Did you catch the Olympics? Wow, just wow. It’s easy to feel bad about yourself when you’re faced with people who’re achieving things you probably never will, but it’s also easy to admire their dedication, their talent, and their passion. In fact, the list of things you can do itself goes on – for example, it’s easy to sit there and berate yourself. We’ve all seen the memes (“so-and-so won a gold medal for their country, and I’m sat here Googling whether you can die of a hangover…”) and so on, but honestly, for most of us, we’re a bit too harsh on ourselves.

We may not all have the opportunity to compete for our country during our lifetimes, but that doesn’t mean we’re not all competing in some small way, every single day of our lives. Whether we’re trying to prove something to ourselves or anyone else, we start learning to do so from a very young age. In fact, for most of us, competition starts in schools.

These days, you often hear about kids getting ‘participation trophies’, however, when I was in school, there was a clear winner in everything. The thing is kids aren’t stupid. You can give all 20 children in the class an award, and they’ll still know that little Amy was the true winner.

So what do you think about competition among students? It’s something ingrained into us, but is it healthy? There are lots of arguments for and against; because evidently, people have really different views on this.

I personally think that competition can be really helpful. Just look at those Olympians yet again. If they’d never been in a position where they had to push themselves, I doubt they’d ever be sitting there with that rush, knowing they’ve achieved their dreams. Competition also teaches you how to deal with loss, and to come up with strategies on how to do better next time. If you failed an exam, for example, you’d know where you went wrong and make changes to improve for the future.

On the other hand though, you can argue that for every person who won a medal, there were people whose life ambitions were crushed, or who cracked under the pressure. For them, there may be no ‘do-overs’, and that’s it. There were undoubtedly sacrifices made by every Olympian, too – just think of all the birthdays missed, and relationships ended, all because something else always had to be more important. It’s trivial, but there were probably a lot of missed ice creams and cakes… and that’s pretty sad to think about, too.

Joking aside, I think it’s all about moderation. I really believe that instead of worrying what everyone around you is doing, you should be focusing on beating your own personal goals and targets. When you are too competitive, other areas of your life can suffer – such as relationships and your social life – because you’re too focused on the prize. Competition in academia and other aspects of life can also put too much emphasis on top grades or winning – leading some people to define themselves on their ‘ranking’. In reality, we need to approach life more holistically than that, and our entire self-worth should never depend on just one area.

It’s healthy for us all to focus, especially on studying or other things which will help us reach our career and long-term life goals. It’s important to recognise though that we are all very different, and whilst I might beat you in a singing competition or a short story contest, you’re definitely going to beat me at football or painting if you’re that way inclined.

It can seem quite contradictory – after all, people tell you to never give up. We risk putting ourselves under too much pressure when we’re too intense, and we risk a defeatist attitude if we simply never try. That’s the point though – so long as you try, that’s all that should really count.

If you want to compete, compete. But never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game. Unless you’re one of those Olympian Gold Medallists, it’s ultimately likely that someone, somewhere will be better than you at something. But that doesn’t make you any lesser of a student, or a person.

Life should be enjoyable. As long as you keep sight of that, then ultimately, you’re winning.

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