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.