The Value of Self-Competition in an Overly Competitive World

The Value of Self-Competition in an Overly Competitive World

Sisters of Mercy Foundress Catherine McAuley is quoted as saying, "The simplest and most practical lesson I to resolve to be good today, but better tomorrow." She makes no mention of being better than someone else. In essence what she’s referring to is self competition. Dr. Jane Shore in “The Power of Self Competition,” writes, “Self competition seeds our voice, our true north, our value and our values.”

Competition would seem to be part of life in the real world, particularly in the United States where motivation and a drive to excel are valued qualities. But Shore argues, “We can just as easily live an existence defined more by collaborative and self-referential goals than by competition with others.” This is particularly true in an academic setting where the drawbacks to a highly competitive environment can be significant. Consider:

  1. Pressure and Stress: Gauging yourself by someone else’s performance can create immense pressure and stress on students, leading to anxiety, burnout, and mental health issues. 

  2. Excessive Focus on Winning over Learning: When competition becomes the primary focus, it can overshadow the importance of learning, personal growth, and development. Students may prioritize winning over gaining valuable skills and knowledge, which can hinder their overall education and character development. 

  3. Negative Effects on Self-Esteem: Not everyone excels in competitive environments, and constant comparison to peers can damage self-esteem and confidence, especially for those who don't achieve the desired level of success. 

  4. Undermining Collaboration and Cooperation: Excessive competition can discourage collaboration and cooperation among students. Instead of working together towards common goals, students may view their peers as obstacles to overcome, fostering a cutthroat environment rather than a supportive one.

  5. Unequal Opportunities: Not all students have equal access to resources and opportunities to succeed in competitive environments. Factors such as socioeconomic status and support at home can significantly impact a student's ability to compete on a level playing field.

  6. Narrow Definition of Success: Emphasizing competition as the primary measure of success can promote a narrow definition of achievement, overlooking other important qualities such as creativity, empathy, resilience, and critical thinking skills. In competing with others, you play by someone else’s rules and buy into their values instead of committing to your own.

A different way of tapping into our internal drive is to compete against ourselves. Competing against yourself essentially means striving for self-improvement and personal growth by setting and achieving goals that surpass your previous performance or capabilities. Rather than comparing yourself to others, you focus on challenging your own limits, pushing yourself to become better. 

Here are some ways you can help your daughter work toward competing against herself instead of her classmates and friends:

  1. Set individual goals: Encourage teen girls to set personal goals that are meaningful to them, based on their own interests, passions, and values. These goals should be focused on self-improvement and not on outperforming others.

  2. Celebrate individual achievements: Teach teen girls to celebrate their own accomplishments. Help them understand that success looks different for everyone and that their progress is valuable regardless of how it compares to others'.

  3. Encourage collaboration: Instead of fostering competition among teen girls, promote collaboration and teamwork. Encourage them to support and uplift each other, celebrating each other's successes rather than viewing them as threats.

  4. Focus on personal growth: Emphasize the importance of personal growth and development over external validation or recognition. Help teen girls recognize that the most important competition they face is with themselves, as they strive to become the best versions of themselves.

  5. Provide positive reinforcement: Offer positive reinforcement and encouragement based on individual effort and progress rather than on comparison to others. Focus on building confidence and self-esteem by highlighting each girl's unique strengths and abilities.

  6. Promote a growth mindset: Teach teen girls to embrace challenges and view failures as opportunities for growth and learning. Encourage them to see setbacks as temporary obstacles rather than reflections of their worth or abilities.

  7. Lead by example: Model healthy competition by focusing on your own personal growth and development rather than comparing yourself to others. Show teen girls that it's possible to achieve success without tearing others down or seeking validation from external sources.

At Merion Mercy Academy, we encourage collaboration, promote a growth mindset, and emphasize the value of learning and personal development. Our culture of self-improvement and mutual support rather than competition helps girls develop confidence, resilience, and a sense of empowerment as they navigate their teenage years and beyond.