There’s a line in the film “There Will Be Blood” that sums up a predicament I’m having in my life right now. “I have a competition in me,” the main character of the film says. “I want no one else to succeed.”
For a while now, I recognize I’ve subconsciously followed a similar line of thinking.
It’s not just that I want to defeat people in some imaginary competition (which is already bad enough as it is). It’s that when I get envious of those I perceive as more successful than me, some part of me secretly roots for their failure — not just my victory.
When Competition Goes Too Far
In the past, it has brought me an iota of joy to see someone’s plans fall short. I’ve got a morbid sense of happiness when I’ve seen ambitious colleagues going back to the drawing board. I’ve probably always felt this way, but I’ve only become readily aware of it in the post-college period of life — a turbulent time where some of your friends might land that awesome job or take that killer vacation before you do.
It’s a cop-out to say that I can’t control this feeling, but nevertheless, if I’m not hyperconscious of it at all times, it can be difficult to keep at bay.
Why is this feeling of competition a bad thing?
Actively hoping for the failure of another — even when done in the privacy of your own mind — is quite inconsiderate. I’d say it’s a bit immature, too.
Besides the exceptionally privileged, most everyone has faced failure, stress, and stagnation on the road to their personal definition of success. I believe that life is hard enough as it is, and that being so, there’s no reason to resent someone who fails to be bogged down by everything the universe throws at them. It’s bad vibes. I don’t think we need more negativity.
This competitiveness is also bad for the individual who embodies it. It’s bad for their mental growth and their own success. The phrase “Losers focus on winners; winners focus on winning” comes to mind here.
Refocusing the Competitive Energy
If the majority of one’s mental energy is spent brooding over someone else’s success, then that’s energy that’s not being spent on improving one’s craft or achieving one’s goals. It’s a misallocation of resources and for petty reasons.
So how do we go about fixing this?
First, you need to be conscious of the fact that you feel this way. Then you have to realize that this feeling is often completely absurd. I’ll give you an example.
A close friend of mine was accepted into a very prestigious film school earlier this year, and I was incredibly envious.
Keep in mind that I’ve never been interested in being a filmmaker nor in anything related to filmmaking. Going to film school never once crossed my mind, and yet there I was thinking, “Why not me?” And those thoughts of “why” soon morphed into hopes for his failure.
I see now that I was intimidated by his ambition, and that made him my enemy in a competition that solely existed in my imagination. I was playing against a person who didn’t even know there was a game in the first place. I wanted to be more successful than him when, in reality, the measures of “success” in our respective fields were radically different and therefore incomparable. There could’ve never been any “victory” for me because, even to this day, I don’t know what that victory would look like. The entire thing was absurd.
The Power of Competing Against Yourself
We have to realize that this feeling of competition can never be rid of completely. Like a lot of other emotions, good or bad, it is innate to us. This competitiveness can, however, be altered. It can be manipulated so that it doesn’t empower envy and resentment, but rather a need for personal improvement and progress.
There’s no one secret to manipulating competitiveness in this way. I imagine different methods and different modes of thought work for different people. Personally, I like to maintain the mindset of a competition of sorts. However, I realize now that the only competitors should be myself and my less-wise, less-ambitious past self whom I’m attempting to leave behind. The person I envy now, only factors in as a goal. I strive for their level of success or an equivalent of it, but I no longer wish for their downfall.
The failure of the person I envy does not raise me above them nor does it help me to achieve anything. If that’s the case, then what’s the point of wishing for it in the first place?