Friday, February 23, 2018

Competition is good but who are we competing with?

From childhood we have been taught by our parents and teachers to compete and win. We were told competition is good and necessary. Probably they wanted to introduce us early in our lives to the unfairness life. But who are we competing with? During school days, we had running races with our own classmates. Of course, I did not win in any of them but I was congratulating the winners. I was scoring well in academics. It had made me feel good to draw attention and feel like a winner. But what about those who did not win either in sports or academics? How did they feel? In the eyes of teachers and winning students, they had remained an unimportant mediocre mass. Were they not destined to be successful?

Out of curiosity, I started learning how those my classmates are doing in their lives after a gap of 20 years we finished our schooling. Some of them had remained mediocre, time had not brought any change in them. But few were surprisingly successful. I started looking into details of their lives. They did not draw attention when they were in school but they had better social lives and had a wider circle of friends than winners had. They gelled with a broader society with ease. These mediocre students did not make their parents proud but they were the dependable most and were available at a call for any petty help to make things run during their absence. They made their parents social circles theirs too and slowly got into the business their fathers were running. When they had passed out of school or college, they were confident enough to run the business their parents were running. Over time they became street-smart businessmen too. Some of them ventured into politics. Few of them built schools though themselves were weak in studies but had hired the right people to run those schools. And the interesting point is, they had formed a network of friends (who too were mediocre in school days) and they stood for each other always. They became a testament to how good life can be if we learn to cooperate than compete with our own fellow schoolmates.

And those who were winners during school life, got on to corporate life and have continued competing at every phase of life. Today I was seeing how the office-goers rush out of a Metro station in Bangalore competing with fellow passengers to check out as early as possible. I was wondering how many seconds they would save by outsmarting fellow travelers. Well, competition is in their blood now, they would not let any opportunity slip off their hands. They cannot let go of any promotions in their office and they would compete fiercely to get to the top-notch job. They will tell you if they let go of the opportunity, someone else will seize it and step on you in the career pyramid. Wow, winning makes them less empathetic. They do care less about who are not winning. They did promote competition in their kids too. And the relay continued to the next generation.

Taking a step back, seeing both instances from a longer-term perspective of life, it feels important for me to have a happier life than competing constantly and winning. Winners will be left with few friends as their ability to to make friends reduce as preferences differ and they will be left with little choice. It makes sense for me not to win and retain friends thereby. I would rather cultivate cooperation in my kids than competition. I would feel good if we stood for each other than force ourselves through career pyramids. I see that many European countries are valuing life more than career (especially the Scandinavian countries). No wonder people are happier there than rest of the world.

After the metamorphosis, I took a conscious decision to get off the corporate treadmill. I still need employment for some more time but I would avoid competing with my own friends and make way for those who are in a hurry. I have changed the job to have a better work-life balance and foreclosed much of my debt. I have informed my family that I would not be buying any assets in future rather prefer a slow life being a non-rich person. I am letting go of the opportunities to earn higher amounts of money and acquire assets thereby. I am out of that race and I would not mind being termed a loser.

My desires are tamed now and I am at peace with myself. I think this is what Buddha had realized two thousand years ago, under a Bhodhi tree. And that is all any fool would learn in future as well.