I remember being fiercely competitive from a very early age. In fact, annoyingly competitive. Sports day, spelling tests, music exams, even water fights… you name it, I was that cock-sure, brazen child who always had to be number one.
A large chunk of these memories come from the early days of playing out in the cul-de-sac outside my house. During the school holidays, I’d be consumed in games and adventures for hours on end every day, and to this moment, the nostalgia remains vivid; the pinky-purple colour the sky would be by the time I came in at night during summer, the smell of grass and earth on my clothes, the rush of capturing a ball before it rolled under a car that was passing by, the echoes of excited shouts and laughs up and down the road… it all sounds so idyllic, and it was. Although my obsession with winning was there from the beginning, they were simpler times when a game of ‘blocky 123’ had no real consequence on how I felt the next day.
Fast-forward 10 years and I was learning the hard way that neither winning nor losing defines a person. Over those pivotal years through childhood, teens and into adulthood, I went from being a first-place regular to sinking under the masses at senior school where the standards were higher and hard work (quite rightly) was rewarded over raw talent.
So, what happened when I reached this turning point? Well, it’s only looking back that you realise why things happen, and that’s the beauty of hindsight, but as an already sensitive child, I just thought I was getting shittier (for want of a better term). While these circumstances might be what spurs someone else to push themselves, my self-esteem plummeted and I grew weary, fast. Getting a C wasn’t ever anything but a knock to my, already delicate, confidence and it wasn’t just academically that I felt these strains; – having previously been ‘head girl’ with the admiration of my teachers and a group of friends both in and out of school that gave me a sense of self-assurance, I found myself doing anything I could to be popular. Torn between pleasing my teachers and my peers, I’d go to an extra-curricular club at lunchtime and ask my friends to wait to have lunch with me. Of course, they didn’t, and when they didn’t, I took it like a ton of bricks.
The reality of the situation was that I’d grown up with an unrealistic sense of how the world really works, and it wasn’t me that was getting worse, it was my my lack of experience that was coming back round to bite me. If you get too used to having things go your way then it’s normal that you feel blindsided on the first instance that they don’t, right? It does make sense.
Now, in the present day, we are perhaps the worst generation for comparison. It’s plastered all over social media that Emily completed a masters and Holly went travelling round the world for a year, oh and don’t forget that gorgeous couple who have their own house to go with their perfect relationship now. We’re forced to see the accomplishments of everyone around us but rarely the losses, and thus, the pressure we put on ourselves to meet the same unrealistic existence becomes evermore intense.
Here’s the silver lining though, and it’s summarised in just two words: – ‘personal best’.
Once you break that habit of measuring your own achievements by what someone else has done, you unleash the ability to grow at your own pace, without expectation or limitation, and at that point, any bumps in the road become just that – minor setbacks that you can appreciate as lessons rather than hate yourself for. So your friend did a marathon and raised a grand for charity, that’s great for him. You ran 5k when you hate running, have asthma and have simply never made time to do something like that before and that is just as great; – it’s important to separate the two. To be truly happy (and let’s be honest, less of an obnoxious twat), we must recognise that we are only in competition with ourselves.