Who are you competing with?

4 Posted by - November 14, 2016 - Learning, Organic Chemistry class

This chapter of the In Their Shoes Project has been very different from the first two. The first year I was doing something (fashion design) that I know how to do so I could focus more on what I was learning about the students and their experience. Last year was a much greater time commitment and my focus was building relationships and understanding a world (the world of sport) that was new to me. I had time to write blog posts while sitting court side during daily practices or on road trips.

This year I have to remind myself to write blog posts because I have become absorbed with studying the course material, trying to learn how to do the problems, and preparing to take the weekly quizzes. I want to study hard and do as well as I can. This says more about me than anything else. Ask my family and friends and they will tell you that this is not surprising. What I did not expect was a comment my professor made.

In class last week he wanted to make a point after hearing from many students who had come to his office hours. He had heard concerns from students that they were not doing as well as their friend or as the rest of the class. He reminded them that I was there and that I had no chemistry background and had not taken the two course prerequisites. Then he said something that surprised me…he said “this is one of the most competitive women I have ever met”. I will tell you that this statement would probably surprise no one who knows me well, even though it is not really how I see myself. He then asked me in front of the class…”who are you competing with?” I responded, “myself”. In this experience I am just trying to do the best I can, do better each week than I did the week before, learn from the mistakes I make and prove something to myself about what I can do if I set my mind to it. The professor’s intent was to send the students a message about focusing on their own capabilities and performance and to not worry about how their friend, or the person next to them is doing.


Our students not only deal with the stress of a heavy workload in a very short 12 week semester but many feel pressure to do as well as others in the class. I understand the self doubt that comes from just not getting it, or not understanding when everyone around you seems to get it. When we think everyone around us gets it and we don’t, we can feel too ashamed to ask questions, or scared that others will know that we are struggling. Of course it is only when others know we are struggling that they can help us. It is only when we ask questions that we can get answers.

How do we work as educators to make asking for help, admitting struggle and asking questions a sign of strength and bravery rather than something to be ashamed of, or something to hide? How do we encourage people to focus on trying to become the best that they can rather than trying to be better than someone else? I learned last year that high performance athletes who want to win must focus on bettering their own performance. They focus on where they are, what they can do, the work required to move the bar, improve their performance and be the best they can be. The winning comes as a result of that work.

So ask yourself, who are you competing with? And how can you help others focus their competitiveness inward and on improving their own performance? Thanks to Dr. Koivisto for reminding me and the rest of the class of the dangers of assessing your capabilities and self-worth by comparing yourself to others. I for one am competing with myself, and that voice in my head that says “you can’t do this” or “its too hard”.

I still have two more quizzes to prepare for, many many more reactions to memorize and then a final exam on December 13. Otherwise I would be writing more blog posts.