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The Paw Print

Better, Better, Better

Iman Baber

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“The environment […] naturally selects those organisms better suited to survive.” I listen as the host of the amazing documentary series Cosmos, astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, explains the concepts of natural selection. Apparently, this concept also applies to the way we lead our lives.

Stressed much? It’s probably due to competition. Everyday in classrooms it is a breakneck race between students to prove that they are the best. Because only one can succeed. Only one can make it. But are the effects of this being considered? Is competition good for us? Or is it only placing a damper on our potential?

For almost every student attending West Ranch, the night before the test often means frantic studying and an enormous amount of stress. I myself use the tried and true method of stressing, studying, and staying up late. But for what? To get the best grade, to come out in the front. Our classes, especially those which are deemed “advanced”, are so competitive that I can literally feel the tension between my classmates. But what is the pressure from this overcompetition doing to us? Imagine this: you are placed on a track with thirty other students. Everyone is told that the one who is in the front will pass, while the others will fail. What’s going to happen? A frantic frenzy for first place. Students will be pushing others and running as fast as they can. This is exactly what is happening in our classrooms. We are giving kids material to learn, understand, and, before they have even grasped what they have been thrown, they must use whatever knowledge they had gained to prove that they are better than those around them. And don’t forget the fear of failure that this environment creates within the minds of students. It turns a learning zone into a war zone. And the burden that comes from battling this war has profound effects on our health and performance.

“Competition could be good if it’s fun, but it can hurt feelings, and that’s when it turns into something bad,” says Lily Segulyev, freshman. While a moderate amount of competition is healthy, and can motivate us to do the best we can, overcompetition can mean a wounded self esteem if we lose, and a compromised health due to the cumulative stress.

“For some students…. It is definitely a negative impact,” says AP Bio teacher, Mr. Smith. “They start feeling down about themselves because they feel that they cannot do as well as the rest of their peers.”  But this competition is not only in our classrooms, it is also an aspect of activities outside the school campus.

Even if we manage to step out of the high-speed race of school, we are run over by another thing: the competitiveness of extra-curricular activities. Seriously, we attach competition to everything. Competitive dancing, competitive sport, competitive writing, competitive cooking, even competitive rock-paper-scissors! What are the effects of this trend? Spoiler alert: more stress. In addition to maintaining a place in the classroom, students who take part in extracurricular activities must worry about maintaining a place there, too. If a student demonstrates interest and talent in any activity, they are instantly placed on the track with everyone else, without time to grow their talent and spread their interest. Their creativity is limited, and they do not get a chance to innovate. All they can do is keep running to avoid being trampled over. Those who remain in the front received awards for their talent, which, there is no doubt those students do have enormous talent, but for others the same race could mean another source of enormous pressure. The joy that may have come from doing these extracurricular activities is instantly destroyed. It turns something fun into work.

As a freshman, I can already sense how challenging that next three years will be. However, the pressure won’t end after I leave high school. There’s the stress from choosing a career, from attending the perfect college, which in itself is a whole other story. Not to mention the tension during college apps. Are our lives doomed to face this burden for eternity?!

Enough about the problems. Let’s talk about ways to fix this. The first thing that people can do is see that not all life is “survival of the fittest”. It doesn’t have to be competitive everything. Like I said, competition is not a bad thing, and can be healthy for us. But overcompetition is bad. So, we can remove the enormous amount of pressure on students by simply lightening the burden of competition. Another thing that we can do is allow students to explore and grow in the world of extracurricular activities and interests. Then, students can decide on their own if they want to enter competitively in whichever interest they pursue. If we give these kids the space to grow, then so many more possibilities and opportunities come to light.

And there are also things we can do as students. The first is greeting this competition with a positive attitude. Everyday, tell yourself that the competition is actually helping you. Look at it as a way of motivation, not as a source of stress. Convince yourself that you will improve the next time. Make a goal to do a little better when the opportunity arises. If we all focus on improving our own skills, then we will get better, and the competition won’t seem as such as big burden. And if you don’t meet a goal, make it your mission to achieve it. We all view failure as a ginormous red flag. But really, failure is only an opportunity to learn. An “A-” will not ruin your life. Remember, “if you shoot for the moon and miss, you’ll still land among the stars.”

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