The Collegian
Thursday, February 29, 2024

Ask Maddy: It’s really not a competition

Editor's Note: Ask Maddy is an advice column published every Wednesday. Anonymous questions are taken from this Google form. Questions are also taken both from The Collegian's Instagram, @thecollegianur, and via email at The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian.  

Dear Maddy,

Have you ever felt the need to go above and beyond or outperform your peers, and how do you combat this feeling?

Dear reader,

I cannot thank you enough for asking this question. This is a question that I think every student at the University of Richmond will be asking themself at some point in their academic career. I hope that I can address it thoroughly here.

Before I offer advice, you all know that I have to add my personal context. I’ve always been competitive. Whether it’s academics or athletics, I constantly feel the urge — the need — to come out on top.

Growing up, I was taught at an early age that I’d have to work harder for the things I wanted. Particularly, my parents made it clear that I, a Black woman, would have to work double-time for the same goals as my white peers — with less compensation at that. It was a lesson I held close because I knew I had to. 

In addition to this, academics came easily to me. I was a natural at English and history (but definitely not math). I regularly took AP and Dual Enrollment classes and passed with high regard from my teachers. 

Like many of my classmates here at the University of Richmond, my senior year of high school was simply a competition — who would become valedictorian, salutatorian and whatever comes after that.

All the while, however, I felt I had to do better. There’s something about regularly putting yourself in high-pressure situations — getting into college, becoming valedictorian, winning the game or making that friend — that turns generic stages of life into competitions. This is especially true of people who compare themselves to others — the need to “go above and beyond” becomes personal.

Part of the human condition is that we measure our own worth by borrowing insight from the lives of our peers. We peer into the lives of others — generally without collecting the full context of their life — and assume we are not doing “enough” for whatever reason.

As a result, we’re pushing ourselves to do better and be better than incomplete constructs we’ve made in our minds of where we’re “supposed” to be.

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To draw an analogy, which I seemingly do every week, it’s like trying to fit a cube in a circular hole. The cube does not fit because it was not meant to go through like that. The cube is meant for the cube-shaped hole. Still, the sphere, which is shaped differently, will fit through the circular hole just as well.

My question for you is this: If you’re feeling the need to outperform others, why are you thinking about these “others” in the first place? I don’t mean this in an insensitive way, but what do they have to do with you?

Inherent in competition is comparison. If you need someone to outperform, make it yourself.



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