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No Podium for Perfection: When Self-Competition Spirals into Self Destruction

“The only person you should compete with is the person you were yesterday.” – Dr. Prem Jagyasi

A quote that echoes the familiar ethos of personal improvement as the vehicle of success.

We live in a society fixated on productivity and the idea that being successful equates to climbing the imagined rungs of a status-based hierarchy. As early as childhood, this is instilled in our psyches in ancillary hierarchies that exist within school, extra-curricular activities and even within our homes.

Life, it seems, is one big rat race and we’re all squabbling to make our way to the top of the finish line. With experience, however, we learn that to focus on competition against others means to lose focus on the optimization of our personal performance.

In my experience, the lesson was learned through gymnastics. From the age of 11 to 18, I practiced the sport competitively and eventually at the provincial level.

During my time as a gymnast, the perceived pressure I sustained inhibited my ability to prosper. Granted, I am also admittedly stubborn which made adhering to the logic of my fears and mental blocks standard practice.

But that pressure was compounded when someone close to me once said if I didn’t allow myself to advance by augmenting my efforts and pushing past my own anxieties, I would watch myself be left behind while being surpassed by surrounding peers.

In a way, they were right –– I wasn’t very good at gymnastics in the first place and I was only impeding my progress with apprehension. But this became a persisting mentality that I’ve carried into other areas of my life. In school, in work, in leisure, the looming dread of being outperformed weighed heavily on my subconscious.

Constant competition against others means constant comparison, insecurity, and doubt. So, we learn to shift our viewpoint to that of an exercise in individual competition –– an effort to push ourselves past our own limitations surpassing previous failures and successes alike.

But even self-competition can lead one down the rabbit hole of needless comparison and criticism. I found myself enduring unnecessary lengths of extremity in order to exceed previous triumphs only to succumb to denigration when I could not fulfil the undefined target of success.

Yet no achievement could feel adequate, the type of success being chased so ambiguous that every small-scale victory in its path is rendered inconsequential. The pursuit seems to be an act of longing for validation, or, rather, an acknowledgement of competency.

Winning is not always the objective; the A+ grade is not always the obligatory outcome.

Jodie Applewaithe

It’s not to say that internal competition should be completely eradicated. It’s that, for the perfectionistic mind like my own, self-competition as a concept must be refocused.

Winning is not always the objective; the A+ grade is not always the obligatory outcome. Instead, self-competition is about dedicating experiences to the betterment of oneself.

Whether that be in work, in life or in creation, each maneuver is an attempt to draw nearer to self-actualization –– a point of fulfilment in being at peace with the contributions we have made. We don’t have to get there quickly and we don’t have to be ashamed of the obstacles we inevitably face in our path. In each step, we can feel a little closer to that coveted satisfaction until the destination is ours to claim.

A lover of many things, notably cinema and pop culture, Jodie Applewaithe is a third-year Journalism and Film Studies combined honours student at Carleton University. With her feet on earth and her head in the clouds, she has big dreams for her future which she's working towards by telling a diverse array of stories.