The Effect of an Ultra Competitive Society on Youth

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There is nothing wrong with competition. Competition brings an array of benefits. It serves as a motivational force that encourages us to work harder, vigilant for mistakes. Competition forces innovative thinking to gain an advantage. Everything we value is a product of competition: smartphones, energy, health care, wealth.

This competition has been taken to the extreme by Gen Z. Everyone competes all the time: be it test results or awards or scholarships or essay writing competitions. Unfortunately, the narrative has gone from, “Bringing the best in ourselves and everyone around us,” to “I must win at all costs.” This shift is especially prevalent in youth, questing for placement in their dream school, clawing out some edge through an abundance of extracurricular activities, many of which they do not enjoy. The competition creates a focus on the letter or number they receive on assignments or tests, and any perceived failure leads to more stress and the crushing of their already fragile self-esteem. It feels like a constant reminder of their inadequacies leading to anxiety, loneliness, an increased likelihood of depression, which jeopardizes their friendships and relationships. What’s worse is that although help and counseling are available, they don’t access it and instead repress their anxieties.

For some youth, this achievement-oriented narrative is further pushed by their parents. I immigrated to Canada with my family when I was barely a year old. The main reason? My parents believed that Canada would increase the chances for me to attend an Ivy League school. When I was growing up, I was told this narrative that I had to “win” this “competition” and always be the best. At the time, I didn’t know what this “competition” even was. Despite that, I tried not to let this narrative impact me and my actions. However, there were numerous instances where I felt extremely dejected, and I couldn’t handle the pressure anymore. There were many times when I wanted to give up and quit, but I somehow managed to scrape by. Now, I try hard in what I do, and I’m still gunning for good grades. For many others, having their parents force this competitive narrative on youth only adds additional stress and pressure. And it’s not just parents, it’s this whole societal atmosphere that youth live in that enforces this narrative. That they have to “win.” That they have to compete with each other and beat each other and “win.” It no longer becomes pursuing one’s passion, but only about the short satisfaction of achievement. That’s what makes this ultra-competitive society so harmful.

It’s like youth today are running a self-made marathon. Marathons are a physically and mentally taxing activity occurring over a significant distance. Participants diligently prepare and yet many fail to complete the event, giving up because they can’t handle the physical strain. There are others who would quit, but fear the embarrassment of failure more. So they miserably move on. Those who persevere through the pressure can cross that finish line, but they aren’t always first. They could be fourth or fifth or twenty-third or maybe even dead last. The results are demoralizing for some while others persist and are determined to work harder in order to achieve a better result.

The marathon refers to this ultra-competitive society. People will drop out along the way because they can’t handle the stress and pressure. Others manage to persist, and even though they reach that finish line, they don’t “win.” They simply finish the race. In this extremely competitive society, finishing the race doesn’t always mean achieving your dream, especially if you’re one of the last people finishing. However, that should never be an excuse for you to give up, especially when there are other opportunities for you to capitalize and succeed. So don’t let failure get to you. Let failure serve as a mechanism for us to work harder and continue on to the next race.

We need to learn that it is okay to persevere and not win. It is okay to feel stress. It is okay to feel pressure and anxiety. It is okay to challenge ourselves. It is not okay to allow ourselves to be crushed by the competition or to suffer in silence the fear and anxiety of adolescents. Gen Z may be the most competitive generation, forced into combat through a scarcity of opportunities, the pressure of parents who expect us to exceed what they have accomplished, and peers anxious for any advantage, but we are not alone. We do not need to bear this weight by ourselves. We have access to help, and with that help, we will not only survive but thrive.



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