Life is not a competition - although sometimes it can seem that way. Unfortunately, jealousy can get the best of us.
Answer these questions honestly:
How often do you find yourself getting jealous of other people?
Does jealousy affect the way you perceive others or the way you perceive yourself?
For much of my life, I’ve been aware of my tendency to compare, compete, and be jealous of others (thinking that I don’t measure up).
But I’ve learned how to navigate these feelings of jealousy by understanding the difference between negative competition and positive competition.
How I Learned That Life is Not a Competition
As a kid, a teenager, and a young adult, I was under the constant impression that life is a competition, which was a big issue for me and seemed to make sense, especially as someone involved in competitive baseball. Since my pro baseball career ended when I was 25 and because I’ve done quite a bit of personal growth work over the past few decades, I erroneously believed that I’d evolved past spending or wasting much of my time and energy being jealous of others.
However, I have recently gone through a few different situations, which have been a friendly reminder of how jealous and competitive I can still be.
Through a series of intense conversations with a few of my good friends, I realized that much of the conflict and judgment that shows up in my relationships with them (and others) has to do with me being overly competitive with them. However, I’m not usually aware of it or honest about it. I get very jealous but often pretend that I don’t.
Can you relate?
How to Navigate Jealousy
It’s easy to tell someone that life is not a competition, but it’s hard to eliminate jealousy within ourselves. It takes a lot of self-reflection and understanding of who we are and what we think of ourselves to work through our jealousy.
We live in a very competitive culture. Early in life we learn to compete (with siblings, classmates, teammates, and more). As we get out into the “real world,” we often continue to compete with family members, friends, co-workers, and others, especially in our professional lives.
We are taught, directly and indirectly, that this competition is a good thing and that it is essential for success. This focus on competition has us relate to life as a game we’re trying to win and the people around us as our “competitors,” even if they’re the people we love and care about most.
The Negative Effects of Competition
Negative competition can result in lower self-esteem. It can also significantly impact our relationships with family members, loved ones, friends, and even colleagues. This can then lead to anxiety, judgment, anger, loneliness, and stress.
It is crucial to transform our negative comparisons so that we can grow, learn, and accept ourselves.
But how do we do that?
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to “win” whatever “games'' we play in life. The problem is that due to our insecurity, we often focus on beating others or think that other people’s success, talent, or even their happiness has something to do with us.
In other words, we often root against the fulfillment of other people, so we can feel better about ourselves or try to show others up and dominate them as a way to feel superior. While these tendencies are normal and natural, they are also counter-productive, stressful, and ultimately harmful.
The Important Difference Between Positive Competition and Negative Competition
As I have written about and spoken about for many years, there is both negative competition and positive competition. Negative competition, which most of us are more familiar with, comes from an adolescent notion that when we win, we’re “good,” and when we lose, we’re “bad.” It’s all about being better than or feeling inferior to others – based on certain external factors, results, and accomplishments. No one ever “wins” in this scenario.
Positive competition is about challenging ourselves, pushing ourselves, and allowing the talent, skill, and support of others to help take us to the next level, go deeper and get the most out of our potential. When we compete in this positive and conscious way, it’s beautiful, meaningful, and healthy – and it has nothing to do with our true value as human beings. In other words, we aren’t “better” or “worse” based on how we perform or who wins.
Of course, there are times when we will win and times when we will lose, but living as if life is a competition with everyone around us is incredibly stressful and a recipe for disaster in most cases.
How to Use Competition in a Healthy Way to Empower and Inspire Us
When we’re willing to let go of the erroneous ideas and decisions we made when we were young about who we are and what makes us “successful,” we can step into a more authentic and healthy version of ourselves.
And by doing this, we can truly empower and inspire ourselves to new heights and depths in our relationships, work, and lives. Life isn’t about competing with everyone around us, it’s about challenging ourselves to be the best version of us we can be and appreciating the journey as much as we possibly can.
Who do you compete within your life in an unhealthy or negative way? What’s underneath that competition? Will you let it go? Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, below, or directly on my blog.
I have written five books about the importance of trust, authenticity, appreciation, and more. I deliver keynotes and seminars (both in-person and virtually) to empower people, leaders, and teams to grow, connect, and perform their best. As an expert in teamwork, leadership, and emotional intelligence, I teach techniques that allow people and organizations to be more authentic and effective. Find out more about how I can help you and your team achieve your goals today. You can also listen to my podcast here.
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This article was published on July 20, 2009 and has been updated for 2021.