I have not a competitive bone in my body. When I play (recreational) sports, I don’t even know the score most of the time. People who are competitive find this odd. They wonder how I get motivated to play well if I don’t care about winning. I go out there to have a good time and play my best. I care about how the rest of the team plays and that we all get an opportunity to make our best contribution.If we’ve played well, I’m happy. I just don’t measure “well” by the score.
You can imagine how annoyed I get in Olympic years. Even if people aren’t talking about sports, they are still talking competition. And the ideals of competition. I don’t subscribe to the Olympic ideals. Not for sport. Not for knitting. Not for anything else. And while I understand that competition (whether against others or against themselves) inspires some people to reach new heights, I resent the idea that competition is necessary to get there. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this.
For some people, competition demotivates.
A lack of competitiveness or lack of commitment to competitive values and the things that flow from them might be part of the problem you have in making your best contribution academically.
If you aren’t competitive, why should you publish in the “best” journals?
If you aren’t competitive, why would you even consider applying for funding when it is so hard to get (and competitive).
How do you go about looking for an academic job when the advice you get seems to be all about getting a job at one of the “best” institutions and you don’t really care about that?
If competition isn’t what motivates you, then you don’t have to think about competition. You need to think about making your best contribution. Doing your best work. Your calling, or whatever it is that got you interested in research and academic life to begin with.
Yes, sometimes you are going to have to compete. If you want to get funding, for example. Other people are going to compare your work to others and treat the whole thing like a competition whether you want them to or not. But you don’t have to focus on that.
What motivates you?
You need to figure out how you are motivated to do that work. That is the basis of your work plan.
Maybe just knowing that is enough. Maybe you just need permission not to care about the competition. If so, I hereby give you permission not to give a damn about competition. But if that isn’t enough, then know that none of my services are framed in terms of competition. The Academic Writing Studio might be just the kind of community you need to support your non-competitive self as you pursue this career.
Originally posted during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Revised and republished 12 September 2012. Edited and recategorized 8 Feb 2016.