Is the Journey of Life a Competition?
Depending on your belief system/philosophy, the life we live now can be seen as a journey. Someone on a journey is usually passing on to another destination. Even if this is not what you think or believe about life, you would still agree it is a journey, at least for the fact that you can not remain in your mortal body beyond a certain number of years.
The journey of life can be compared to vehicles racing, moving and speeding along on an expressway. Just as on the road there are vehicles of various colours, shapes, designs, costs, sizes and brands, so in the race of life, human beings move along with much diversity. Some are going, while others are coming. Some cars move so fast, some overtake others, others drive at their own pace, while others are forced to slow down. Some even park on the side for one reason or the other.
In the journey of life, there are no winners and no losers. Every individual has his/her own journey to make in life. Each one carries with him/her, his/her own identities and existential burden. The speed or nature of a person’s race is determined by a number of factors, but most of all, by the attitude towards self and towards life.
“Unhealthy competitive behaviors or exhibiting pride over others is often a sign of
low self-esteem, low self-confidence and a clouded perception of life”
A reflection on the journey of life can take so many dimensions and is indeed a reflection to engage in from time to time. However, this piece seeks to look at it from the angle of going through life with a competitive attitude; something very common with all ages and human spheres of life.
Attitude is a very important and powerful factor in this journey. The attitude with which one looks at life, one’s self and others will determine one’s behavior, reactions, responses, choices and eventually the quality of life during one’s lifetime. There are persons whose attitude towards life, self and others is largely one of competition. As they travel on the highway, they feel compelled to overtake anyone who is in front of them.
So, this competitive spirit drives everything they think and do. It drives their work, relationships, family life, choices and beliefs. Someone with such competitive spirit would find it difficult to rejoice with others in their good times. They see everything as a threat to their own progress. This could even be an unconscious feeling or a sense of the world that the person is not aware of.
People who are unhealthily competitive for no reason see everyone else as a threat. He/she wants to come ‘first’ – first in everything. Such attitude repels other people because no one would enjoy being around someone who takes life too seriously.
As a twin, my mother did not allow us to cultivate unnecessary competition between us as we grew up. She taught us that each person is unique and needs to strive to become a better person. So she would point out our weaknesses without necessarily comparing us with each other. So I grew up knowing that in the journey of life, I have to keep improving myself; not to look better than the other person, but to become the best person I could be, both for myself and for others.
I took this same lesson into my educational life as an undergraduate. As a student, I did not feel the need to compete with my classmates to do better than them; rather the GPA (Grade Point Average) of 4.0 was my focal point. In my mind I reasoned that it is achievable and so anyone, including myself, could achieve. I kept my focus on the Summa (the highest point) and kept going. Since I was not competing with anyone per se, it was easy to share my knowledge, my notes, my time and competence with fellow students. I also learnt a lot from them.
On graduation day, classmates were amazed that despite my involvement in co-curricular activities and outside school community events, I still did make a Summa. I didn’t feel that I was the most intelligent student in my course that year, but I felt that my hard work and destiny simply smiled on me. In my heart, I believe that others could have achieved such grades as well, so there was no reason to have a ‘big head’.
There were very sharp and intelligent students in my year, but some of them had privileges which I didn’t have. As students of International Relations, they were able to afford various student-tours to important places across Europe and America and this kept some of them out of classes for days and weeks. This contributed to their grades in school, as class attendances and the natural consequences of missing classes certainly affected their academic performance. Of course, this does not explain why all intelligent students in my class did not make a first class.
Today, many of my classmates who did not have as much as a Summa cum Laude (First Class) are doing great things across the globe. This include some who had no honours at all. Some of them even have what I (some time ago) called “my dream job”. However, I believe that each person has his/her destiny to fulfill and yours will lead you where it is meant to lead you, provided you are open to life and doing your best to be your best. As much as others may seem to be ahead, a closer look at your own life will give you lots of reasons to simply be grateful to God, everyday.
Unhealthy competitive behaviors or exhibiting pride over others is often a sign of low self-esteem, low self-confidence and a clouded perception of life. As a human being, you cannot know everything. So are you willing to learn from everyone and from everything as you go along? When you come into a new position in a new office or business, in spite of your past work experience and degrees, you will not fit in comfortably if you are not open or disposed to learning what is right from others in relation to your position and work context.
If you find yourself consciously or unconsciously looking down or talking down to another human being, then you have forgotten the basic principle that, that person is just as important as you are. Many of us are indeed guilty of this, especially when our positions, money, or fame goes into our head. Do you deal with people in terms of their status, job position or because you have financial powers over them?
It is interesting when in an office setting you observe that this person has a way of talking to everyone depending on whether you are the boss, a senior colleague, the cleaner, the gateman, a visitor, or a client. This may be a usual way of relating, but we must always remember that at the end of the day, we are all equals in this race of life.
“We can teach our children to be who they are and strive to become
better persons without necessarily pulling anyone down.”
Still on this point, it is different when one relates to people from an attitude of, for example, “you are an office cleaner” and so every time you speak to the “office cleaner”, it is always in a commanding voice or belittling tone. Same goes for whoever you think is “at the mercy” of your little powers/authority within your space of work. You ensure that the other person indeed feels your “authority”. You deal with people today, but you do not know what they will become tomorrow. Hence the Igbo saying that, “Tomorrow is pregnant” – Echi di ime, or “Who knows tomorrow?” – Onye ma echi?
In life, a person may be affected by other people’s comments and perceptions and this weighs on different people in different ways. It may drive a person to become unnecessarily competitive in an effort to look better, but in reality, the people dealing with you tend to see through your lack of genuineness. Some people go to the extent of committing suicide because of what others think about them, while others are able to still pull along with determination to prove “certain persons” wrong.
The Igbos believe (this may not be general for all Igbos today) that every person has a personal “Chi” who pre-determines a person’s destiny even before they were born. This “Chi” holds on and leads the person through life and determines a lot of what happens to the person along life’s journey. This, however, does not exclude factors like, choices, circumstances, environment, opportunities, and failures. In spite of these, it is believed that the person eventually becomes who he or she was meant or destined to be. This is of course very arguable, but somehow, every person tends to experience at some point in life that “What is meant to be will be… or has become….”
As an anonymous writer once stated, “There is no competition in Destiny. Run your race and wish others well.” Be as helpful as you can towards others. This will speak for you in your time of need as you journey along.
“There is no competition in Destiny.
Run your race and wish others well.” – Anonymous
The Swahili expression puts it profoundly when it says, “Nimetoka mbali” meaning “I have come a long way”. Everyone has a journey to make, and everyone has indeed come a long way to where they are today. When each person responds faithfully to his/her own destiny then together we can say in harmony, “Tumetoka mbali”, “We have come from afar”; we have been through it all together.
However, we also say it is not how far, but how well. Hence the quote that: “A life not reflected upon is not worth living.” Reflecting on our life, actions, choices, dispositions, attitudes and beliefs needs to be a continuous conscious exercise daily.
The divine maker who desires that we become better persons each day, always has a way of communicating to us through our experiences and those of others; through persons around us, through our instincts, through the Word of God, through events, through experiences and so on. If we take the time and trouble to listen, then we can be better guided and guarded along the journey of life.
The journey of life is complex, but then the supremacy of it all is:
i) That human life is precious;
ii) Every human being has equal right to life, food, good health, shelter, clothing, good education, safety and security;
iii) Every person is unique and has his or her own journey of life to make;
iv) Each person has the right to seek out their divine purpose in life and to fulfill it in sincerity without any harm done to others along the journey;
v) Each person has a responsibility to contribute to the good of others along the journey of life.
We can teach our children to be who they are and strive to become better persons without necessarily pulling anyone down. We teach them that envy and jealousy is a waste of energy. Values and positive attitudes as shared above can be impacted on our children so that they grow up with self-confidence and spirit of contentment, while striving to improve themselves for their own benefit and that of society.
- Linda Ellah