You lose when you see life as competition.

Too much of life, sometimes all of it, seems to be about competition.

You find two kinds of competitions – direct and indirect.

Direct is zero-sum, with limited resources, so one person’s gain appears to imply someone else’s loss.

Indirect isn’t zero-sum in that total resources aren’t limited, but still somehow seems to end up competitive.

Direct Competition

The most common examples of this are admissions to colleges or job applications.

You have hundreds of people competing for one opening.

It might be millions competing for hundreds of positions, but the ratio is usually hundreds to one, so it’s easier to think of it that way, just considering one opening.

It’s easy to see how competition enters here.

If one person gets through, it necessarily implies that all the other applicants won’t.

Which explains the common tendency to see it as zero-sum, to feel pleasure at another’s loss and sorrow at another’s success – because their failure seems to increase the odds of your success, and their success apparently implies your failure,.

I think that’s the reason there’s a common tendency to look at what other people are doing, instead of at oneself.

How many hours overtime does he work? How many hours does he study? How many hours does he train?

Then you might feel that you’re lagging behind if you’re not doing as much.

He’ll run away with the prize, and you’ll be left gawking like a fool.

Indirect Competition

What about when it’s no longer zero-sum? When one person’s success doesn’t come at your cost?

It’s too easy to make this a competition as well.

Someone comes with a fancy car, someone gets a high paying job, someone has a great physique – most of the comments usually focus on running that person down.

He bought that car with his dad’s money / he made that money through foul means. He’s stupid to buy an expensive car, it’s better to buy ‘experiences’.

That guy with the high paying job only makes money and does nothing for society.

The guy with a good physique takes steroids to look like that.

In almost every single case – that guy’s success doesn’t take away anything from anyone else.

If someone’s earning well or spending on luxuries or looking good – there’s absolutely no reason to wish him ill, and there’s nothing stopping anyone from trying to emulate him, if they really want it that bad.

It really comes down to envy – seeing someone else doing well can actually make others feel worse by making them feel inadequate about themselves.

How do you compensate for this?

3 Options

Perhaps the optimal response when you see someone who’s done something you think is really cool is to be honest with yourself if you’d want to do that too.

Not just ‘it’d be nice to have that‘, but to be willing to pay the price for it, to make the same sacrifices to get there.

If that’s the case, then you would do your best to achieve what he has.

And if you really felt this way, far from negative feelings like envy or malice, you would have only admiration or respect for someone who could achieve what you consider worth achieving.

Then why wouldn’t you do your best to learn from them in whatever way you could?

This is competition in its finest form, the kind of competition that creates value.

The competition that focuses on building oneself, rather than pulling someone else down.

That takes effort, however.

So it’s easier instead to fall back on other alternatives.

The next is the crabs in the bucket response – when a crab sees another fellow crab climbing high, it goes out of its way to pull it down.

In the process it hasn’t benefitted itself in any way – on the contrary, it’s only caused harm both to itself and to the rest of crab society.

It wastes its own energy and time stewing with envy and then working, not to build, but to destroy someone else’s creation.

And it destroys value for society, because when any crab achieves anything, it has multiplier effects.

A person who creates new knowledge that others can use, who creates wealth that others get a share of – when you stop such a person you damage not just him, but everyone – including yourself, more than others, given the wasted effort you could have put elsewhere.

And all just to make yourself feel better – you yourself could never achieve what they have, so now they won’t either.

Even this, however, is usually beyond the reach of most people.

Often they’re not capable of bringing that person down or harming him.

So instead, they like to just talk shit about it.

Talk is easy, and talk is cheap, and talk lets off steam, eases envy and reduces inadequacy.

It doesn’t get you anywhere, you’re still where you were.

But you can try to feel better and convince yourself that you’re just as good.

Attributing someone’s success to fluke or genetics or steroids is an easy way out – you can convince yourself that person is an exception, and it’s not possible for you or others to achieve the same thing.

Another is downplaying their achievement, making it out to be a very small thing – which ironically, you’d never be able to achieve yourself.

It’s simple sour grapes at work – pretending to not want something that you actually want because you can’t get it.

Tell yourself that the grapes you can’t reach are sour, and it’ll help you’ll feel better about not being able to get them.

It’s a good way to cope.

It’s not surprising either, that since this is the easiest route, it’s also the most common, and perhaps the reason most of the internet appears to be a cesspool of negativity.

A defining trait of a loser is to be a crab who tries to bring others down, either by actually pulling them down, which is worse because it causes real harm, or in his delusional mind by talking about it, which is not so bad, because humanity doesn’t suffer when a crab lives in a compensatory reality.

If you are a crab, though if you read this far I think that’s slightly less likely, it’s good to recognize that and do something about it, unless you like being a crab.

But more importantly, if you’re not a crab, then you should never let a crab bring you down, never let people talking shit about you affect you in reality, even if you find it hard (though this shouldn’t be an excuse to brush off reasoned criticism).

Because crabs don’t matter, and you make a mistake when you give one more importance than its due.

Good work is too important to let it perish so easily, and you should never let mud tarnish diamonds.

And of course, it’s a question of ego too – are you going to let a little worthless crab affect you so much? How are you any better than a crab then, if all it takes to bring you down is a measly crab?

Direct Competitions Again

It’s easy to see that indirect competitions don’t really have to be competitive, it’s just that people often make them that way.

What about direct competition? If a million people compete for a thousand openings, how is it not competitive?

It sounds counterintuitive, but the same idea applies to direct competitions too, that it’s not really about competition.

It comes down to the locus of control once more.

Locus of control is the degree to which people believe that they, as opposed to external forces (beyond their influence), have control over the outcome of events in their lives’.

With an external locus of control, you’ll always blame other people and things – everyone and everything apart from you – for your failures.

And so you’ll always believe that other people will affect your fate more than you yourself – which is why you’ll keep obsessing over how much others are working or studying, thinking more about them than about yourself.

You can tell yourself that the fact that you didn’t get in is not to do with you, but other people – someone else had a better network to get the job, or the paper was too tough (as though it wasn’t tough for others).

For some reason, the competitive view is often hard-wired unless you consciously reject it – perhaps because it’s self-serving since it helps us shift blame away from ourselves.

I recall several interviews and discussions where I’ve been chided, mockingly or not, for ‘wasting’ college seats to do something else, and that a supposedly deserving candidate could have made better use of them.

Lots of people have told me they’ve faced the same question, and tried to defend themselves.

I’ve never understood what’s there to defend.

If that guy was deserving, he should have got in ahead of me. I didn’t deny him anything.

You can always muddy the waters bringing up externalities like equal opportunity, but the point gets through if you understand the simple point that my win isn’t the cause of his loss.

What’s also true is that those who’ll blame someone else for getting through and wasting an opportunity are precisely those who’ll never get through themselves.

It’s easy to see why.

Successful people, whether applicants for jobs or college or anything, usually get there by working for it.

That requires looking inwards at what you’re doing, not gawking at others and trying to compensate by pulling them down, if only in your mind.

The truth is that thinking of this as a competition will only bring you down.

Every second you obsess over others is a second you take from yourself.

To say nothing of the physical and mental impact on your performance such paranoia about others creates.

And if you are good, something will come of it – it might not be what you thought, but something eventually will turn up.

I can’t imagine an efficient market allowing already developed talent and skill to go waste. Opportunities do go waste, because so many poor people don’t get a chance to build skills, but those who’ve built themselves will be found.

Logically too, it makes no sense to pin the blame externally.

It’s like saying ‘the cause of my failure is external, something I cannot do anything about’.

If there’s really nothing you can do about it, then why would you bother trying?

If you really believe the field is packed full with talent and you’ll never make it in this crowd – why would you even bother trying?

The very fact that you try means you believe there’s something in your control, which you can do something about.

Others aren’t the reason for your failure or success.

The Competition Trap

Perceiving everything to be a competition is detrimental.

It’s easy to see that you lose opportunities for collaboration – it’s hard to imagine any successful endeavour, whether it’s research or business or administration – succeeding without support.

But it’s also true that looking at it as a competition affects your behaviour.

This is a vicious cycle.

‘If everyone is doing X, then how can I be left out?’

If everyone is busy brown-nosing higher ups or trying to project fake images of themselves, it doesn’t mean you should do that blindly.

That’s just letting yourself be dictated by others.

It doesn’t mean you have to do the opposite either – that’s again being dictated to, just in the opposite direction.

It’s just that you can decide this question on its individual merits, as you can decide any question.

But that’s only possible if you don’t perceive your actions to be driven by other people or factors outside your control.

When you see that it’s not necessarily ‘competing’ with others on the same track, it’s easy to understand that you can move on a different track, one that’s optimal for you.

Competition is the worldview that there’s a race going on, everyone moving along a single path.

You don’t want to be crowded out and fall off the track, so you keep running on that path, and keep trying to trip up others as well.

You don’t question the path itself.

And you trip others because their loss is your gain – one less rival for the win, one more fallen opponent you can claim to have triumphed over to add to your count and improve your ranking.

Competition is the ideology that everything is relative.

It’s easy to see that – tell a fresh graduate he’s got a job paying X, and he won’t know whether to be happy yet.

Tell him what others are making – usually the average or median salary – then he can decide to make up his mind whether to be happy or sad, even though the knowledge doesn’t affect what he’ll make.

Another view is not of people running on a racetrack, but of ships that pass in the night.

Which means that whether a ship is going fast or slow, whether it’s big or small, whether it’s pretty or ugly, you don’t have to view it as a rival.

This brings an understanding of trade-offs.

Some ships are bigger, some faster, some prettier – yours is not going to be the best at everything or even the best at anything.

Just as you won’t be the richest and the smartest and the tallest and the best golfer and any other intersection you can think of. Nor even one of them most likely.

But you can still choose a lot of your trade-offs, give up some qualities in return for others you value more.

Whereas if you’re in a race, you end up competing by default, feeling bad whenever you see someone better in any attribute – intellect, looks, wealth, degrees, anything – and that happens all the time.

Because it’s a competition, and because everything is a competition, your default setting is that you compete without wondering if it’s worth competing for.

And because everything is a competition, you always lose – everyone is going to be better than you at something, and someone will be better than you in any particular thing.

Competition is the ideology of the insecure.

Insecurity creates the competition worldview because you’re never sure of or happy with what you have; you need to constantly reassess it relative to others. Your relative position determines your happiness.

If you weren’t insecure, you wouldn’t need to compete and compare what you have with everyone else.

And to complete the circle, the competitive worldview feeds the insecurity that creates it, because now you can never rest.

Sure, you might be richer or better looking than that guy in front of you, but how do you know you’ll ‘beat’ the next guy? Or the guy after that?

And even this guy you just beat in wealth or looks might have a fancier degree than you, so you ‘lose’ there.

Ships Passing By

When you see it as ships that pass in the night, you realize you’re not competing with that ship in front of you.

It’s just that your paths happened to intersect, and soon you’ll go your separate ways.

If that ship does well, it doesn’t take away anything from you.

On the contrary, maybe you’ll learn something from it if you happen to meet again.

Or it might through its effort improve the ocean as a whole, leaving it a better place for everyone.

At any rate, you don’t lose anything by its success.

So why would you go out of your way and waste your life trying to harm it or bring it down?

Why not just wish it well?

In fact, why not even do whatever you can to make it a better ship?

Not just because you might benefit by this or learn from that ship in the future.

But because any idiot can run another ship down, it takes no effort or skill, just stupidity and envy.

But to raise it higher, to add value and leave it better than you found it is the hardest thing in the world.

It’s something you can take pride in, and a sign that you have at least something of value in you.


Sweta Tripathi

Whatever you said about the embracement of other ships and seeing them as an asset for the society shows the quality of a good leader only such a person can lead people and bring out the best of them for the world…

“Competition is the ideology of the insecure”. I never saw this word as a synonym of insecurity before rightly said.

“Talk is easy, and talk is cheap, and talk lets off steam, eases envy and reduces inadequacy.” – I find this small poetic lines very creative …


I can’t help but thank you for the time u take out for writing this,Also the way u write in one liners reminds me of the book I enjoy to read the most-“diary of a wimpy kid.”But u r not wimpy at all.U can smile if not laugh,the only difference is that yours is a bit of serious stuff but that book is more hilarious.But appreciate what u write,even if its serious,it makes absolute sense……..

Deepshikha sharma

Pratyush sir your idea help me to think out of box ☑️


Well said. Always feels like you put what I feel on paper..pure bliss! 🙂



Purabi Kalita

To a wider extend considering one’s knowledge, experiences are limited of anything to come to an conclusion without being dualistic, so, if you have any related views on epistemological crisis you can write something on this. Your articles are quite interesting.


i’m in love with your thoughts.


Have you written any article on mental peace?

Prateek Kumar

Well written. Do you think the root of this insecurity is a status driven mindset? Maybe we use status as a metric to gauge our position in the society we live in. And thus it decides our decisions. From job, to cars, houses and so on….