Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Competition vs. Cooperation

I've been searching on the Internet to find out who first said that youth is wasted on the young. According to, it was George Bernard Shaw. I guessed Mark Twain. Seemed like something he would have said. It was 100% true with me and I'm seeing that it is still holding true.

I absolutely LOVE being around a college campus again and working with students. I definitely want to get my PhD and teach, even if I only teach part-time and pursue other options full-time. There are certain things about being around students, though, that are really tough for me. I now understand the frustration that my mentors went through with me.

With two or three exceptions, the students I've come across this year don't fully grasp that the people in their class are going to be their network for the rest of their professional lives and not their competitors. They could do themselves a huge favor by eliminating the internal competition and focusing on cooperation. It's not as if they don't like one another or don't get along, because they do. It's just that they're ultra competitive with one another. I've seen it firsthand, this weekend being the most recent example. One of the students was incredibly secretive and evasive when asked what internship she was applying for when another student was giving her an update on some reference information.

They're so worried about other students going head-to-head with them for opportunities. They don't want to tell others who are interested in the same line of work where they're applying. In contrast, if they helped one another through the process and made sure that at least someone in their network gets the internship if they don't, they'd be so much better off. They'd have someone they know in that area who could help them out in the future! It's not the easiest thing for competitive people to do, but by helping one another, by being happy when one person does well, by accepting competition for internships, and by being willing to let their merits go head-to-head against anyone, it would solidify their reputation within their class as someone who's willing to help others reach their goals. Yet, they're secretive and they hide information.

The greatest example I've come across of what people would ideally be like when working with those who are also competing with them was the description of Lincoln in Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Lincoln took the idea of cooperation to levels I can't even fathom. I think it's one of the things that made him such a great leader. He chose four men whom he beat out for the presidency for major positions in his cabinet, any/all of whom were expected to be elected over Lincoln. He was continually back-stabbed by people in his cabinet, yet he knew that they had the best talents for the jobs. And even though they treated him that way, he never reciprocated. He chose these men because although they were competitors, he wanted them around him because they had the best talents for the jobs.

Again, cooperating with people you view as competitors isn't easy. It's really damned hard, because that behavior may not be returned! I can scream about it until I'm blue in the face, but like almost everyone through time, there are life lessons that we only learn through our own experiences, and not from others trying to teach us. Just be open to the idea of cooperation instead of competition.


abv25 said...

You nailed this one! I wish people would just encourage and support one another rather than always compete.

However, we can't let a few people spoil the bunch. Props to those of you who are supportive of your peers' accomplishments. Keep it up and never change who you are!

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