The competition is a lie

Posted by: Cath Jenkin | Date: March 17, 2014 | 7 Comments

I have a close set of friends who all work in the same industry as I. We work in similar ways, some of us are parents and every single one of us deals in the same, sometimes murky waters of living our life online.

Were we pitted against each other in a job interview situation — we’d be primed to hate each other. We’d be bamboozled into competing for the spot and the world would applaud us demolishing each other while under the spotlight. We’d be expected to outperform each other and probably get lauded for criticising each other’s work.

But, we’re not like that. We’re not even close to that. Heck, I can’t imagine any of us doing that to each other, for it would go against everything we believe in. We don’t sign up for that competition, because we prefer to celebrate each other’s successes and are overjoyed when our respective dreams come true.

Why is it then, that when people work in the same industry, move in the same circles, are jarringly similar in approach, that it’s so often assumed they should compete?

It comes down to this — we’re taught, most especially in school and then again in the workplace, to attempt to be better than the person next to you. The better you perform on the hockey field, the better you are seen as a person. The more money you earn is directly linked to the amount of respect you’ll get in the office. Don’t believe me? Cool. Talk to the person who cleans your office, and then talk to the corner office resident. Tell me how it’s different? There you go.

That underlying concept of competition that seems to have sewn itself into every facet of our lives is a lie. It is an unnecessary lie. Every single person who tries and works hard to do the best that they can with the life that they live, deserves to be lauded for the accomplishments they have created for themselves. People deserve to be taken for who they are, and not categorised by how they fare in comparison to their peers.

That secretive level of competition that is ingrained into each of us, from when we are little, right up to when we are sitting there at 2am, trying to figure out how to pay our mortgage, is a lie. There’s a statement that says “comparison is a thief of joy” but … it’s not just that.

When you compare and compete, you immediately eliminate your ability to be happy for someone else, and you rob another person of the capacity to be happy for you one day.

So that’s why, for me, I won’t compete with these women I hold in such high regard. There is more than enough work for each of us to do, and more than enough space for all of us to grow. Moreover, each and every one of us acknowledges the particular things we love, and we hone ourselves in a focused way towards fulfilling the dreams we keep for ourselves and for our families.

There is an immense and intense sea of joy that lives in this place, where our friendship resides. It is there that we can celebrate each other, clink virtual champagne glasses and share our ideas.

We are not afraid of each other, because we do not need to compete with each other. Life — and technology — enabled us to seek each other out and be buoyed by our banter on a bad day. Most of all, clapping for each other, when the world tells us we should be at clawing at each other, is the greatest accolade we can all feel in unison.

Image – AFP


  • Sandy Nene

    This is a very powerful article. Thanks for sharing this, Cath!

  • Tamzin Nel

    Love this Cath! I am inherently not a competitive person at all which is something no-one in my industry can understand or appreciate really. We really can all succeed without trampling on others but rather cheer-leading our friends and colleagues on :)

  • Cath Jenkin

    Thanks for the comments, folks. There is space for everyone, and everyone has a reason to be celebrated!

  • Ailsa Porter

    Competition can be very unhealthy – like your article! :-)

  • Lins

    Hi Cath, just an idea.. Do you think maybe it’s an insecurity/identity crisis issue? We often define who we are (identity=essential to self esteem) by who we are and also who we are not, thus comparing- whether similarities or differences…and when either of the parties, as a result of this process, feels the other is superior or has an advantage(which may be real or imaginary), there is a potential for jealousy and thus competition. That’s not to say it can’t be a healthy motivator, but not everyone is content enough I themselves to channel this in a healthy direction? Just a thought.. Maybe the root is a positive self image? Either getting sucked into the business world mentality of it being normal and necessary, without stopping to reflect on what they are doing. Let’s hope more people (myself included from time to time!) can be more supportive and sincerely happy for our peers!

    • Cath Jenkin

      Thanks for your comment Lins. I think you’re right on some levels – our sense of self is often defined by our own inner monologues…and that can be great, or awful (depending, often, on the kind of day we’re having!)

      I think the ability to be supportive to others starts within!

  • Nadia van der Mescht

    So true and what a great reminder too.