How Good You Got It: Dealing with the Secret Competitive Spirit

I am a highly competitive person, but not the kind of in your face competitive. I like to do my best and feel like I am the hardest worker in a group, but I never actually speak about it. This is mainly concerning grades and what I call “academic reputation”. I want to be known for always hitting above the mark and for being both punctual and dependable.

However, in graduate school almost everyone is super good at what they do. Which is great. But it has thrown my competitive side for a loop. It has been a humbling experience to work with people who are so smart and work harder than I ever have.

How do I evaluate myself if everyone is just as good or better? This has been a very personal question that I feel like most competitive people would not want to admit that they ask themselves. It has been a hard term for me because I do not know how to answer the question.

If you know much about me, its that I am not really a team player. I hate group projects. I play sports where you don’t have to share the ball (think tennis). And I like to work without socializing (which I know that most people find awkward, I just don’t like mixing social and work as a means to proficiency). But now, I am on a team. A team of highly qualified academics who want what I want, but are in the same place that I am. We are not competing… yet. We are working along side one another (until its time to apply for jobs that is). See how precarious this position is?

I know there will be several ups and downs to this process of situating myself and my secret competitive notions, but I just wanted to write about it because I feel like this is a very real and unspoken part of academia. It can make the process lonely if you do not come to terms with these competitive feelings. You either won’t make friends or you will fall into cycles of self hate, and neither of those will make this path any easier. And just remember, others are probably going through the same thing.

If you are like me, it is best to put these competitive feelings in a different place, but not aside. I think my competitive nature is a good drive for getting things done, but it does not belong in all areas of my life nor should it dominate my motives. I can’t let it define the reason for me being here or my future. For the present, the only thing that I can really say is that I have it good. This is a privilege to be here. Yesterday I found out that there was only one international spot open when I applied to the MA program, and I got it. You have to realize how good you got it, that you are in position that could have been someone else’s.

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Grad School: The Agenda

Have I mentioned that my husband and I are latin buffs? We literally spend at least half of our homework time translating it.

Therefore, I would like to explain the word “Agenda” through its latin roots:

Ago: to drive forward

Agenda: the Future Passive Participle: things about to be done

Why am i saying this? Because I am literally obsessed with my agenda. Call it a planner if you want, but I admire this very latin word and its quite literal meaning. This one little book has gotten me through my first term of graduate school without ever missing a dead line or forgetting any important dates. Although it would seem as if brain power, intellectual capacity, an expansive vocabulary, or even brown nosing skills could be just as important, I must say that the very roots of my tranquility in the storm of assignments and obligations is found in my agenda.

I write down everything in it. Down to the dirty details…. such as laundry, duh. I get such a satisfaction in highlighting or crossing things off the list that I have made for any given day. The things that are about to be done have been done, and that makes me feel accomplished. For me it is like checking the completed percentage of a video game. You know, when you are able to see that you are exactly 30 percent through a game, and you check later and you are 90 percent through it? And then you’re like, “How did that happen? I am almost there! I have conquered this game!” or something like that. I love seeing that I am not drowning, and that I am keeping up with everything. It is definitely a small victory.

I usually buy stickers for my agenda. Which sounds dumb. But it adds a little color to the all white pages. Plus, you wouldn’t believe how many crazy sticker templates there are out there. Seriously, go to hobby lobby and just go to the sticker section. It is unbelievable. Also, I will write random inspirational quotes through out it (or dumb quotes from movies and stuff) that will make my day better when I see them. I also usually pick out an agenda that is… well, not plain. This year my sister gave me a Kate Spade one with an adorable bookshelf print. It has bookshelves covered with book and knick knacks. It is definitely my taste and I think it reflects my personality very well. Good job, sis. Basically, I turn my agenda into a scrapbook of sorts that won’t show pictures of me, but will show my accomplishments and personal quirkiness. It is actually much more fun than it sounds. Plus, it can really be a place of zen when you plan out your day/week or look back at what you have been able to do. I never feel incapable of completing a task when I have my own personal testimony right in front of me.

Yay for planning and Latin. Two of my favorite things.