In all our daily interactions, we are knowingly or unknowingly competing with others.
The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines ‘competitive’ as being inclined, desiring or suited to compete.
Being competitive is inborn: siblings compete for food at the table and attention and approval. At school, children compete for the best grades despite there being no guarantee that the best students will be the most successful in life. As adults, we compete to see who gets the best job, best car or who makes the most money.
Competiveness is not bad but how people treat competition is what causes problems.
“Competition is always a good thing. It forces us to do our best. A monopoly renders people complacent and satisfied with mediocrity.” Nancy Pearcey.
In life you compete with yourself and others.The psychologists tell us that competition can be either healthy or unhealthy.
Healthy competition serves to help you learn, improve and grow and become better at whatever you choose to do. It is about improving your ‘personal best’ as you take yourself to the next level of success.
Unhealthy competition focuses on winning; sometimes it goes as far as winning at all costs. You are only interested in the results and you think that you can succeed only if others fail. Who can forget how Ben Johnson of Canada fell in an instant from hero to zero at the 1988 Seoul Olympics! He had won the 100m race but tested positive for use of Anabolic steroids, Performance Enhancing Drugs. Then Lance Armstrong who dominated the Tour de France cycling race from 1999 through to 2005 but became the cycling’s biggest fraud for use of Performing Enhancing Drugs.
George Leonard said: “Competition is the spice of sports; but if you make spice the whole meal you’ll be sick.”
Unhealthy competition puts too much stress on the individual and harms one’s mental health. Whenever you do not win, you are left feeling inadequate or a failure. It is responsible for ill health, depression and anxiety in children and youths.
One Swahili proverb says that : “What your mother does not teach you at home, the world will teach you at a price.”
The psychologists also advise all parents to motivate their children to participate in simple competitions at home and at school because it has some benefits for them:
- It prepares the children for the wins and losses of adult life.
- It helps them develop important life skills like resilience, perseverance and tenacity. They learn to encourage others and develop empathy.
- It teaches them the true meaning of competitiveness- not to focus on winning but also appreciate that by participating in a competitive task, they learn something that will in future inform the decisions and choices they make.
- Over time they will learn that failure is part of success and therefore they should not fear it. Naturally in life, you win some and lose some. This is what makes a balanced individual. Such an individual grows up knowing that it is fine to lose as long as you know that you accomplished what you set out to do and you gave it your best efforts.
Howard Cosell rightly said that, “The ultimate victory in competition is derived from the inner satisfaction of knowing that you have done your best and that you have gotten the most out of what you had to give.”
Parents like good sports coaches, can empower and motivate their children to excel by:
1. Believing in them and getting the children to believe in themselves. Most accomplished individuals relate their achievements to the power that comes from learning to believe in themselves and knowing for sure that their parents and teachers believed in them.
2. Inspiring them to do more than they think they can do- assist them to gradually reach their full potential and provide encouragement.
3. Teach their children to do things right and to be responsible for their actions. They should help them to recognize their strengths and weakness and teach them to look out and explore available opportunities.
4. They should guide them through life by being the best role models to them; children do what they see not what they are told.
5. By sharing their wins and losses and motivating them to keep trying.
In a nurturing and empowering environment, children learn to trust their parents and teachers enough to open up and learn from them. I grew up in a home where I was loved and cared for. My parents created situations that helped me to grow and develop. I was empowered and motivated through rewards and grew to love winning. I was always sure that my parents would willingly share my wins and losses. They always assured me that I could be anything as long as I was determined to work hard and enjoy what I did.
The Church -founded school that I attended for all the fourteen years of formal education offered many extracurricular activities like sports, gardening, clubs like debating, Geography, visiting the elderly in the village, acting, dancing. It turned me into an all-round student who is confident, self-motivated, interdependent, has a good sense of time management and believes in herself and in life – long learning.
Over time, I came to learn that the race of life is not a sprint but a Marathon- endurance running. To complete the marathon you have to start off with the end in mind then plan how to get there at your own pace or rhythm. You have to be always aware that you are surrounded by other runners. You can use them to your advantage to achieve your personal best.
In the Uganda of today life is highly competitive for the children as their parents make efforts to take them to the best schools and universities. Available statistics show that 400,000 thousand students graduate from the tertiary institutions every year to take up the 100,000 jobs available!
This calls for a different approach to education from primary to tertiary institutions. Yesterday, we should have started producing students who think for themselves and have the skills they need to create jobs for themselves other than be mere job seekers. With their creative minds, the students would have been able to create appropriate solutions to the common problems in our communities like deforestation, drought, youth unemployment and garbage disposal to name but a few.
The students have to remind themselves regularly that there are no more permanent skills in this 21st century; skills keep changing. Skills have to be upgraded and enhanced to enable the worker to have the right skills at the right time for the right purpose.
The 21st century is the Information Revolution, the most innovative age of all time. It is Science and Technology- driven. The world has shrunk to a global village in which the most science and technology- driven countries like USA, Finland, Japan and Israel lead. Other countries like China and India are catching up too. Thankfully, knowledge and skills are transferrable and portable in this Digital era and developing countries like mine are gradually building their own capacities in Science and Technology and getting transformed by them.
The new lunar race for space exploration plays out the necessity of Science and Technology remarkably well. Since the July 1969 moon landing , USA has led the race followed by Russia, Japan, China and Israel. With the accumulation of scientific knowledge and its technological applications, other countries have joined this race.
China is now a great power and wants to claim its position as a world power off planet Earth while India wants to test and prove its advances in science and space technology.
Among the biggest challenges of our time are Climate change/ destruction of the environment resulting in frequent droughts, floods and fires and water and food security, conflict and wars and unemployment. Countries that are most advanced in science and technology irrespective of size, but are ready to apply them to solve these problems, will lead the world.
As things stand now, global competitiveness increases with each passing year and to thrive in this fast –paced world, driven by science and technology, we have to prepare ourselves and our children for the changes by becoming more innovative and creative. Continued skills training to share new knowledge is essential at all workplaces.
Charles Darwin, the British naturalist, said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change.”
How are you helping your children, your workers or the young members of your community to fit in a competitive and fast- changing world driven by Science and Technology?