When I see MC talk of his academic failures, I sit a bit stunned by his belief in that evaluation. I think of his fear of his mom when he placed second at the district spelling bee and how he thought of himself as a “loser” for coming in second. I look at his academic record, and no he was not valedictorian, nor did he go to Harvard. Still, his graduate school was in the top ten in the US for his field and he graduated with a near 4.0. I know when he looks back on his college and graduate school career, he knows he did not give it his best effort and, so perhaps, some of his disappointment stems from that fact. I know I can personally identify with that feeling as well when I think of my undergraduate studies. And, this points out to me what I see as the “wrong” kind of competition versus the “right” kind.
I want MC, me and our children to each compete against ourselves, to do our personal best and seek to improve compared to where we were before. When we see others have thoughts, ideas, practices that improve outcome, then by all means we should learn about those thoughts, ideas and practices. What I don’t think is appropriate is the thought that we must be “better than” others. The only person we each need to be better than is ourself. There will always be somebody who does better, who knows more, has more, who goes further, etc. There will always be somebody who does worse, knows less, has less, goes less far, etc. But, if we use such things as a metric to feel good about who we are or where we are in life, then we are setting ourselves up to either gloat or be disappointed. Comparing ourselves to others is the surest path to building false ego and falling into the self-pity trap (two sides of the same coin if you ask me). We are also setting ourselves up to be afraid to fail, and so afraid to try. But, if we are competing against ourselves, we can look at our improvement over time based purely on our willingness to work toward personal improvement, on our willingness to do the work, no matter how it compares to others.