Note: In Part I of this series entitled “Is There Room for Everyone?” I attempted to consider this life question through the lens of a major issue facing our society right now— racial tension. I hope that you a chance to read it and share your thoughts! If not, it is not too late.
For Part II of this series, I would like to consider this same question but applied to another area of life: personal success. If you have ever lived–which obviously you have– then you can relate to the pressure that comes with needing to feel competent, competitive, and successful.
From birth we are taught to “be the best,” to “eat or be eaten,” to “strive to do better than we (our parents) did,” to “set an example for those following behind us,” to “live up to our fullest potential,” and to “strive for success.”
Well hello, I was only 10 years old and I didn’t know what all that meant in practice. Thanks for setting me up to chase after something I had no idea about! Of course, back then I did not have that smarty pants reply to everyone who ever encouraged me to strive for success. If I knew the hunt would be so convoluted, I might have spoken up!
There is a lot pressure on children to figure out life! No wonder youth struggle with so many internal and external pressures. All I knew as a child was that “success” was this illustrious concept that every older person I knew was still striving for. I just wish someone would have told me that success is something you achieve everyday, step by step, goal by goal, instead of making me think that it is something to be achieved at one major level.
It is very sad to think that we spend the majority of our childhood, teenage, and early young adult years chasing a concept that we likely cannot even define for ourselves until much later in life. People ask, “do you want to be successful?” Well, YES, of course! Who doesn’t want to be successful? Duh.
Unfortunately, that is the wrong question. The real question is, “what does success look like for you?” Figuring out what success looks like for us as individuals yields a more attainable picture of success. It is wiser to know what we are chasing before we start wildly running around hunting for a random target. Unfortunately, most of us are not taught the importance of the process so, just like me, you probably started wildly running after success without direction, confidence, or a clear focus. Can anyone relate?
Ultimately, any positive or negative decisions we make in our lives can be boiled down to two motives: (1) we are either chasing what we think will lead us to success, or (2) we are doing something that helps us cope with the stress and pressures that comes along with chasing and achieving success. However, simply asking someone if they want to be successful without first guiding them toward a personal definition does two things: (1) gives them the impression that they are currently unsuccessful and (2) ultimately sends them spiraling into the abyss to chase success with a blindfold on. Hooray!
And with that, we find ourselves quickly entrenched in the Comparison and Competition Wars at a early age. “Be yourself” they say. But what does that mean when one doesn’t even know who he/she is? So in an attempt to figure out who we are, we start looking at other people for clues and direction. We take bits and pieces of other people’s success to help form our own, which is not entirely bad. It does, however, open the door for the dangerous trends of comparison to and competition with others.
Personally, I think this is one of the most damaging things we do to ourselves: compare ourselves to other people. From the physical, intellectually, financial, materialistic, and the emotional, we constantly struggle with comparing ourselves to others.
1. If we think that we are better than them, we either…
- directly or indirectly treat them like they are less than we are
- gain internal confidence, or
- become prideful and exert our “better-ness” every chance we can.
2. If we think that we are not better than them, we either…
- find ourselves challenged with insecurities
- strive to improve ourselves to catch up to them, or
- do things to bring them down to our level and in turn seek justification for those actions.
3. Finally, if we find that we are on the same level, we either…
- work on maintaining an equal level or status,
- feel comforted that we finally found someone that can relate to the highs and lows of our journey to success, or
- do everything we can to push them (1) a little lower so we feel higher or (2) a little higher because that’s what confident people do!
This comparison and competition is only heightened when it comes to professional areas of life. Do I even need to explain this one? If you work, hang around professional people, or have any kind of position or status in an institution or business, then you know that competition is both subtly and not so subtly at an all time high. The more prestigious the job, the more competition. It really takes a mature, self-assured, confident, independent person to not fall victim to the competition and comparison wars of professional culture.
So in the end, is there room for everyone when it comes to being successful? Is it possible to compete less with each other and work more to support each other?
It will be challenging, but I say it is possible to make room for others. However, there are a few things to keep in mind…
- There will never be room for everyone else if we don’t figure out what success looks like for each and every one of us. We are all unique and have our own individual paths in this world. Success means finding your own lane and mastering the art of running in it. From relationships to professional careers, are you mastering running in your own lane or are you running in another person’s lane?
- Until we embrace this concept– of defining our own success and staying in our own lane– we will always find ourselves pushing everyone out of the way to make room for our self. In reality, we were all created to be different so there are enough lanes for everyone. I know, competition seems natural and inevitable; I understand that. But I think that one of the reasons we compete, personally and professionally, is to ultimately be crowned a winner. Winning validates that everything we have been chasing in our own lane has not been a total waste of energy. We want to at least know that if we wasted our energy, someone else did too. However, our success is not measured by how we competed against someone in another lane, but rather how we mastered everything laid out for us in our own lane. Competition against others only leads us to emotional and mental exhaustion. So, the only time you should be looking at someone’s lane is to get tips on how to better run in your lane. Remember, the best version of you is not a series of stolen bits and pieces of other people.
There is room for everyone in success, but that’s only if everyone commits to staying in their own lane. You can look at other people’s lanes to find inspiration, but at some point you have to go back to your own lane and get moving. The only competition allowed is between following your heart or listening to the handicapping thoughts floating around in your head. In that battle, only you will decide which one wins.
Read Part I: Race and Racial Identity: Is There Room For Everyone? (Part I)
Read Part III: Relationships: Chemistry and Compromise (Is There Room For Everyone? Part III)
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