Competing Against Myself

On the topic of competition, I posed these queries to consider: What is competition? What does it mean to win or lose? In competitions, how must we balance individual and community needs? How can we use competition to grow as individuals? In response to these queries, I thought about three of my past experiences: Suzuki violin training, The Agents of Social Change (TASC) incident, and my SSAT experience.

I have been training on the violin in the Suzuki Method since age three. The Suzuki Method teaches children to play an instrument through growth and progress. It discourages direct competition between students and advocates for mutual improvement. In this method, we learned to play pieces and had to perform all songs in a graduation recital at the completion of each level. As students, we turned it into a competition of who was better at certain pieces or who was farther along in the books. We subconsciously judged each other based on what pieces we could play. During group classes, when asked to play a piece, we silently criticized one another when they were unable to play a song. In orchestra, we would vie for first chair or seats in the first row.

Initially, I felt the urge to compete against other students to complete levels quickly, even though my teacher discouraged us from doing so. While I progressed as a violinist partly due to competition, I have come to recognize that the true measure of mastering the piece is how my playing touches the hearts of my audience. I relate this to the Quaker principle of letting my Inner Light shine through my instrument for the whole community. We can use competition to grow and become the best of ourselves, instead of merely beating someone else.

TASC and Tech Team are student-led committees open to upper schoolers (Grades 6–8) that I participate in. TASC organizes dances and school events for fundraising, while the Tech Team educates our community to help them become “tech-savvy.” I actively participated in both committees since grade 6. NFS uses the Quaker process to decide on clerks for committees. Three students, including myself, wanted to be the TASC clerk. At the TASC meeting to pick clerks, the candidates were asked to leave the room as teachers and committee members discussed which two candidates were best suited to serve as clerk and co-clerk. Even though I considered myself to be the most qualified candidate, I was extremely nervous while awaiting the decision. When we were called back into the room, everyone looked sadly at me, and I guessed I was not chosen to clerk. I felt angry and upset. I attended more meetings and served TASC more than the two chosen clerks, but still was not picked. I was devastated as I thought the process was unfair.

I did not ask to clerk the Tech Team as I did not want to relive the TASC experience. However, a few weeks later the teacher in charge of Tech Team told me that I was picked to clerk that committee. Suddenly it all made sense to me. The teachers had considered me better suited to clerk the Tech Team and moved the meeting in that direction. The teachers wanted me to be the Tech Team clerk, which is why they did not pick me as TASC clerk (as one can only clerk one committee at a time). The teachers had carefully planned for me to be the Tech Team clerk as they thought I would be a better fit there. I stopped being upset and questioned if this was a competition at all. I do not think it was a true competition. The teachers intended to give everyone the opportunity to be heard and recognized as a leader.

In the TASC incident, I learned that we must balance the individual’s needs with the community’s needs. I was more qualified to clerk the Tech Team than I was to clerk TASC. I understood that the process was to make everyone’s voice heard in the community by giving students different leadership roles. I realized that sometimes the community needs are more important than my personal desires. I can relate this experience to the Quaker testimony of community, as balancing the individual needs and community needs can be challenging.

For admission to independent high schools, students must take the Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT). My SSAT experience was both grueling and enlightening. I took a practice test in the prior year. While I did very well in two of the three sections, I did not do so well in the other section. That single section prevented me from achieving my desired overall score. I worked on my weak section all summer long and took the real exam. My overall score improved, but I still did not get my desired result. I was upset and discouraged. Yet, I was strongly determined to try and achieve my desired score. I forced my dad to sign me up for the next exam, which happened to be two and a half weeks later. This time, I used a different method to study, sought help from my teacher and practiced even more earnestly. This time, I knew exactly how to conquer the difficult section. I took the exam and was elated when I received my desired result.

I learned to take initiative and help myself. I competed against myself, and it was the toughest competition I faced. When one thinks of winning or losing, they typically think about being better than someone else. Through my SSAT experience, I became better than my past self. Competition against yourself pushes you to be better, which is great for stamina, growth, and progress. I realized that competition is really about working to be your best self and striving for excellence.

Competition is a multi-faceted idea. One can compete against themselves or others. Winning does not mean being better than another person; it can also mean learning from each other and collaboration. It is about working hard to achieve a goal which includes personal growth and progress. However, we must also understand that personal sacrifices may be necessary for the overall betterment of the community. We should be willing to make judicious compromises for the benefit of all. Of the different forms of competition, I consider competition against myself to be the best. My perspective of competition is rooted in the Quaker values of integrity and community.

Read more: Student Voices Project 2019

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