Competition surrounds my life. In almost everything I do there is some sort of a competition involved even when there does not have to be. The teachers don’t always have control over how their students create competitions, and I certainly learned that last year in fifth grade.
Last year, there was not always official competition among the students, but by nature it felt like a competitive environment, which made lots of people, including myself, turn most everything into a competition. We read many books for our class. There is nothing wrong with trying to get through your book or reading it quickly, but there is a fine line between reading a book for enjoyment and devoting all of your time to reading a book just so that you are able to say “I win.”
Last year, a few students and I always tried to finish the book that we were reading in class first. From about October through midway through the school year, every single book we read in class was a competition to see who could read it faster. In third grade, I would always try to be the first to win, and at the time the quality of my work was not the important part. It was finishing first.
Last year, when we were competing to finish the books faster, we never really addressed the fact that it was a race. However, every single day I would get asked if I had finished the book or what page I was on. It got to the point where I was not reading for myself; I was reading to win. I was comparing myself to others, and that made me feel bad about myself and feel less than who I was, all because I was comparing myself to someone who is nothing like me. I am me, not him, not her, not you. I am me, and I am proud to be me. However at the time that’s not really how I felt.
I remember we were midway through with the school year. We were reading this book called Robins Wood. We got the book on Monday, and we had to finish it by Friday. There were no assigned pages to read per day; it was up to each of us to determine and space out our time in order to be finished reading by the deadline. As usual, I had to make sure that I finished it before anyone else in the class. The students that were also trying to finish the book first had the same mindset that I did.
I would read every page as fast as I could and the only thing I was thinking about when reading was winning. The book was about 115 pages, and on Monday, I read about 55 pages. On Tuesday morning, a particular student who would always try to finish the class book before me asked me what page I was on. We were on the exact same page so we agreed to read the same amount of pages. By Wednesday morning we’d finished the book.
I thought this way would be less of a competition and more like partner reading. It turns out that it still was a competition just in a different way. It was a competition in disguise. You wanted to make sure that you did not lag behind, and even when I tried to read the same pages as the other person they would lie to me and read ahead. If they wanted to read ahead that was totally okay, as long as they were honest about it. When I found out that they were not being truthful, it made me feel hopeless—that no matter what there were only two solutions: Keep reading in a race, or just stop reading with them and focus on me, not them. As usual, I proceeded to read in a race.
I had no idea what went on in the book because I was just focused on finishing the book. During the school day on Wednesday my fifth-grade teacher announced to the class that there would be a test on Friday. I didn’t think much of it, but once I got home it really started to sink in that I had made a huge mistake. Rather, I have been making a huge mistake for months and maybe even years. I regretted reading every word on all of those pages not even paying attention to the content of the book. I had integrity to be honest with myself. I always knew I was not doing the right thing but at the time the right thing was not the most important thing. The important thing was winning. I never tried to do the right thing, which was to take my time, but instead I put in effort to finish things quickly. And from there it got worse.
I checked in my backpack to get the book out to re-read some parts. I digged through every square inch of my bag only to find that I had left my book at school. I looked online for hours trying to find an audio of the book. Tears began to brim the edges of my eyes. I had no idea what to do. Tears brimming from my eyes began to rush down my cheeks. I sat on the floor crying out every single tear I had left. My brother, Phillip, overheard me crying and screaming. He came to ask what was wrong, but I did not want to be honest because I was embarrassed, so I just let my crying and screaming take over my honesty. Phillip went downstairs to my dad’s office and told my dad that he did not know why but that something wasn’t right.
My dad immediately came upstairs to my room to see what was wrong. That’s when I knew it was time to not let my crying and embarrassment overshadow what really happened. I let my integrity take over. My dad was very understanding: he gave me a hug and told me that it was going to be okay. My mom came shortly after and told me the same thing. They both offered to help me look for some audio versions of Robins Wood. They even offered to purchase the book at a bookstore nearby. The bookstores were not open, and we could not find the right version of Robins Wood.
The next day at school, I made sure that I got Robins Wood. When I came home I read all 115 pages again to understand the book. I remember shaking and my heart racing a million miles per second at the thought reading the whole book in one night, but by the end of the day on Thursday, I had finished the whole book—again.
On Friday, I went into the test with full confidence. When the test was handed to me, I soon realized that it was extremely easy. The answers were practically written on the page. Though the test was easy and I don’t think I needed to re-read the entire book, I would not change re-reading it because I learned a really important lesson.
I used to believe that if you finished first in something academically it meant that you were the smartest just for finishing first. In reality, that could not be further from the truth. Everyone has their own pace and can succeed with the amount of time needed, and smartness has no connection to finishing first. For the remaining months in fifth grade and now in sixth grade, I take my time on everything I do. With that experience, I soon realized that a community is supposed to lift others up, not tear them down. I now strive to be the best version of myself and be honest with others because I know the feeling of extreme discomfort and pain when others are not honest with me. Thinking that finishing first is more important than the quality of my work really hurt me. That is not what a smart thinker’s mindset is like. I learned to have integrity with others and most importantly with myself, because the first step in changing a problem is acknowledging that it’s wrong.