When I Stopped Competing, I Set Myself Free
“With nothing to compare yourself to, aren’t you perfect?” ~Byron Katie
I have never liked competition. Every time I compete, I feel pressured and disconnected from others. I love harmony, peace, collaboration, and win-win situations, kind of like “me happy, you happy.” I don’t need to watch another person lose the game to feel good about myself. I don’t need to dominate or put someone else down in order to feel superior and worthy.
In some cultures, competing is perceived as a sign of ambition, power, and strength. Most of us grew up hearing constant comparisons, which turned into a habit during our adult lives:
“Do I look better than her? I want to be slimmer.”
“How much is he earning? I want more.”
“Where does she live? I want a house at least that size.”
And so on…
In my home country, Romania, like in many other places, the schooling system was a fierce competition to get the best grades and be the first in the class. As a child, I remember spending an average of ten hours a day studying and doing homework during weekdays. I hardly had any time to play and relax.
Teachers were always making comparisons between students, parents would compare their children to their friends’ or neighbors’ kids, and no one truly encouraged individual talents.
As a result of this conditioning, I ended up struggling with serious self-esteem issues for many years. As a young woman, I didn’t see myself as good enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, or successful enough, and I desperately tried to be perfect.
When I wasn’t competing with other people, I was competing with myself. I was always striving to be the best friend I could be, the best daughter, or the best employee at work. Pleasing others was addictive because I felt validated whenever I heard “well done!” And then I wanted to do even better.
I am not here to blame. I am not a victim. My parents did the best they could at the time, and society did the best it knew, so I am not blaming but instead looking for hidden and limiting beliefs that have worked against me. Here’s what I have realized I need to do:
1. Stop competing with other people.
“Comparing yourself to others is an act of violence against your authentic self.” ~Iyanla Vanzant
Our society often encourages competition. There are some circumstances when we have no choice but to compete—when applying for a new position at work or attending job interviews, for example. However, there are situations when we make the rules, and the choice is entirely up to us. We can live our own lives and mind our own journey, or we can choose to compete with others over who’s more attractive, wealthier, happier, or more successful.
During my single years, I often compared myself to other women. Most of them seemed settled; they were married and had the house, the men, the kids, and the dog. I used to feel like a failure, as if something were wrong with me. I met my husband when I was thirty-six. We were two Romanians working in Asia, for the same company. Small world, indeed. We’ve been happily married for four years now.
So here what I’ve learned: Everyone is on their own path, and we all do what’s right for us, in our own time. I believe we live in a supportive Universe where everything unfolds perfectly—at the right time, in the right place. Comparing ourselves with others is an infinite source of stress and frustration, and it doesn’t serve us well.
2. Stop competing against myself.
“Doing your best is more important than being the best.” ~Zig Ziglar
Perfection is nothing but pure fiction, an illusion created by our minds. It’s also a learned practice. Most of us were raised to constantly strive to become better people—to focus on our flaws and perceived limitations—and we either take our strengths for granted or aren’t even aware of them.
While we are all learning from our experiences and mistakes, we also need to be aware of our gifts and talents. We need to celebrate our uniqueness and detach ourselves from the toxic habit of comparing ourselves to others.
Yet here I am, in my forties, still reading about infinite ways to become a better human. With so much focus on the need for improvement, particularly in the personal development industry, I wonder when I am ever supposed to turn into the best version of myself and find peace.
So I’ve stopped competing with myself. I refuse to fight against myself so that I can reach the end of the tunnel, and I am no longer waiting for the magical day when I will become perfect and faultless.
Why turn my life into a never-ending competition? True friendship is not about competing against each other. It’s about support and collaboration. Why act as my competitor when I can be my own best friend?
As the Chinese proverb says, “Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.”
If I am to spend my precious time waiting to grow into the best of myself, there will always be something to change, add, fix, or transform so that I can finally feel whole and complete.
Life doesn’t have to be such a daily struggle. I don’t have to fix myself because I am not broken.
I embrace the entire repertoire of my humanity with self-love and compassion. I choose not to be a “work in progress.” My desire for growth is about taking each day as an opportunity to learn more about life and myself.
That’s how I discover who I really am and what brings me genuine happiness and fulfillment. By releasing old patterns and limiting beliefs that don’t serve me well, I get closer to my real human essence. My life is all about experiencing things as they come. It is a journey of self-discovery, not self-improvement.
Since I changed my perspective, I’ve stopped beating myself up. I now talk to myself kindly. I treat myself with dignity and respect. I know I am worthy of the best things life has to offer, and it is my birthright to be happy. My happiness is nothing to compete or fight for.
I also choose to see myself as perfectly beautiful and beautifully imperfect. I celebrate my mistakes as much-needed opportunities for growth. I celebrate both success and failure because this is what makes me wiser. I treat every life experience as an opportunity to learn new things about myself and other people.
Furthermore, I’ve learned to forgive myself for my mistakes in the same way I forgive others, knowing I am also human. As a student at the school of life, I will sometimes rise and sometimes fall, and that is okay. I no longer strive to become the best version of myself. Instead, I always do the best I can. When I know I’ve done the best I could, there’s no room for regrets. Whenever I know better, I do better.
I am enough and worthy, so I don’t need to prove myself to anyone. Not even to myself. Newborns and babies do not compete against each other. They love and approve of themselves as they are. In our competition-oriented society, we need to remind ourselves more of our true nature, which is balanced, loving, and peaceful.
I believe the world needs fewer fighters and competitors. The world needs more givers, peacemakers, and soul nurturers, and it also needs more compassion.
The day I stopped competing against myself and others, I set myself free. And you can do it too.
Artwork by Rebecca Freeman