Healthy competition?

I don’t see academic pursuits as a zero sum game. Yes, funding may truly be limited at any given point of time. But academics can also be part of the force toward more funding, thereby increasing the size of the pie rather than fighting for each piece. And we can all support each other with the funding we do receive. So where then is the role of competition?

I have experienced 3 types of competition so far in my career. Let’s break it down:

Competition in my own mind that makes me feel inadequate
Comparing myself harshly to highly-productive colleagues is more likely to discourage me, rather than inspiring me toward good work. I try to be aware of this and give it a pause. (Hint: this feels yucky).

Friendly competition that builds connections
I have had fun, engaging, multi-year interactions with colleague-friends where a touch of competition feels like part of our connection with each other. This competition feels like something that inspires me and is a force gently pushing me forward with the other person (or group), strengthening our connection. (Hint: this feels good).

Destructive competitive interactions
I have also been treated quite terribly by colleagues. I have been blocked from doing my work and have been accused of not being competent or supportive in front of other colleagues. It is only in retrospect that I realized this was largely due to competitive drives. Walk away from destructive competition. Remember that whenever someone cuts you down, it is about them. Another may be promoting herself in a non-skilled way, by cutting you down. Notice. Walk away. Protect yourself. (Hint: this feels awful).

Be aware of the competitive drive in yourself and coming from others. If it feels good, it may have a place in helping you make your maximum contribution to the world.