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Competing To Live ‒ How Competition Culture Is Dictating Your Life

Written by: Ashlee Rose DiSalvo, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


It’s taken me a long time to come to grips with the fact that I am no longer an athlete. Starting at age three my dad signed me up for pretty much any sport he could squeeze into my schedule.

Like most other parents of the 90’s he was under the impression that team sports would help build character, improve my social skills, and keep me in shape. If I lacked athleticism and some raw talent then at least he would have tried. If I was good enough maybe I could turn natural talent into a competitive high school career resulting in a college scholarship ‒ or heck ‒ maybe even go pro. A parent can dream right? And college was becoming so increasingly expensive at the time, a trend that hasn’t waned.

To my dad's joy the latter came to fruition. I got the scholarship and went off to play. College was tough and I learned a lot but most importantly, in preparation for the “real world” I came out with no debt. More than half of the girls I had played with in club and high school that went to play ended up quitting or never graduating. Some hated their team or new coach (I shared this sentiment), some couldn’t deal with being away, others realized they didn’t want to be in that major or school, and many couldn't keep the grades to stay NCAA eligible. Being a college athlete is hectic ‒ there was honestly nothing easy about my schedule or the adjustment to living in a new state with new coaches or teammates. It’s a move, a new job, and you still have to do school full time all as a 17 or 18-year-old. So the fact that I got out with a degree, a certification and no debt ‒ I was winning. The flip side tho, the part that no one ‒ ever ‒ in the history of sports talks about is what happens if you don’t go pro. Sure, you enter the workforce with a stellar resume ‒ who wouldn’t want an athlete as an employee? We are trained to be on time, we know about teamwork, some of us become great leaders, and at least we have practice committing to something bigger than ourselves. Awesome ‒ you're hired! Now what? As a paid athlete I was told what to eat, when to work out, my time was managed by my schedule. That was all gone. No more guidance, a slower metabolism, and the weight of paying bills. Most of us figure it out or we move home.

The shity part is that we have no idea what to do anymore because it’s always been done for us. And the biggest hole that’s left for many of us is knowing our purpose. I found myself wondering “who do I compete against now?”. How would I prepare for that competition if I didn’t know who it was? And so, for many of us, it becomes ourselves. This issue happens at an earlier age for high school athletes that never play in college. They have to deal with all of it without a degree or certification at age 17 or 18. And for those who were never athletes, social media now provides the competitors and the stage to put anyone in competition with anyone at any age over a like. Competition culture is everywhere in America and it is exhausting. It plays at the core of our cultural life ‒ capitalism defines a for profit government system meaning that we are all measured by our ability to gain. Almost every institution in our society echoes this ideal. From the time we are young the education system teaches students to compete against each other in class. We emphasize the “importance of good grades” and “hold students back” if they don’t achieve. Later we use these same labels to define their rank in their class which ultimately leads to better college prospects. Only students from the top ranks go to the “big” schools with “nationally ranked” programs. Which ultimately helps them get higher paying jobs at more distinguished companies which other lower ranked students would only dream of. Students aren’t the only ones who get letter grades ‒ the restaurant industry has the same for cleanliness. Most companies are rated on a 5 star program no different from the 5 letter grade system.

These same companies make lists which rank their value. The same goes for products and services. Ultimately we are taught from infancy to “size yourself up” and then value is placed on that position. That value sticks with us through life. Some people get lucky breaks and make leaps and bounds in this tiered system but most of us keep the pace and self-fulfill our destiny. The shitty part is that the whole time we are competing with everyone else, playing a game we never signed up for, with rules that the same group of people over time have created to keep themselves at the top. We try to make it fun for ourselves ‒ keep ourselves distracted with the entertainment industry which ALSO has its own ranking systems with Award shows and A-List distinction, music is ranked by metals (platinum and gold), and of course ‒ sports! New technology and it’s establishments like gaming or needing to have the newest phone have even become competitive. There is no one in this country who can hide from this culture and it is so deeply ingrained in us that I found the need to talk about how it might materialize in your life so that you can figure out how to make daily efforts to break free of it. Some might ask why? What’s the problem with this culture? Let me be clear in stating that I chose to live in America because I love it here. I like most everything about the culture and the people. I root for the Buffalo Bills religiously (I usually don’t miss a game all year) and I use YELP daily to tell me the best places to eat or the best services to buy. Shit - I’m a High School Math Teacher. I decide how my 150 students are ranked. However, this culture creates a common practice for us in our daily lives which impacts our relationship with ourselves. And from my personal experience it prevents my clients from recognizing their own abundance and having gratitude, which makes for a not so happy human. So here are some questions I ask my clients which I challenge you to ask yourself in order to bring awareness to how you might be letting competition affect your life. I then highlight how they impact two of the four intention setting categories I ask my clients to reflect on before a session.

  1. What is your vision?

  2. Who or how was this vision inspired?

  3. What is your end goal?

  4. What would happen if you reached your end goal?

CAREER I find that most of my clients ‒ usually the ones who make big money ‒ have deep drives. They keep pushing the envelope day in and day out. None of them, and I mean not a single one, have retired. All of them find themselves bored and taking on new projects or business because they can. Even those who have multiple houses and businesses can’t find it within themselves to stop working. Why? My answer ‒ they have become accustomed to

competing with themselves. And often they have no idea what their end goal is. Usually because they never took the time to figure out what that was. They were so used to competing with everyone else that when there was no one else to compete with they started doing it with themselves. No matter where you're at in your career cycle I am certain no one wants to work every day but we condition ourselves in such a way to need it in order to define our worth in other areas. So when we don’t have to do it anymore we can’t find a way to stop. When does our vision change from needing to work to wanting to work? And who said that was right?

RELATIONSHIPS ‒ We all have heard the saying that “girls like bad boys'' and most of us “marry our dad or mom” even though the vast majority of our parents have created trauma for this generation ‒ so much so that the CDC calls it a Childhood Trauma Epidemic. Too often many of us cycle back to the worst relationships with someone who we know isn’t good for us. We race with the rest of society to “get married” and “settle down” purely because everything about this culture tells us that this vision is successful ‒ it means we are worthy of love. Divorce rates are so high for a reason, we truly have no idea what we want at an early age yet we’re expected to make big commitments (like what career to take) so lots of us find ourselves in the twilight of our 30’s“growing apart” from someone who seemed so right. Competition between siblings for affection starts at the earliest stages of development and then transforms into clout wars later in the lifetime. A lot of times it rears its ugly head at holidays around gift giving which becomes a self-worth factor for many people ‒ especially those with children. We compete with others for love from such an early age that when we get older it simply makes sense to compete for our own love because we know no other way. This in turn creates an endless cycle of our bodies needing modification or our closet needing an overhaul. When did we convince ourselves that what we have to offer could only be measured by others?

The list of ways competition culture shows up in our lives is endless. At this point it seems to be a right of passage to endure it on this planet. Although there may be no way of actually escaping it I find it good practice to question why we are okay accepting it. In many ways I know it was beneficial for me to learn early on so that I could play this game called life and succeed but just like Volleyball, I’m sure that I won’t want to play it at some point. I’m also sure my body just won’t be able to take the pressure forever. So let’s work together to figure out how and when you want to stop competing with yourself so that you can look back in gratitude with reflection and experience a life of true satisfaction.

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Read more from Ashlee!


Ashlee Rose DiSalvo, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Ashlee is a former NCAA Scholarship Athlete who has worked in High School Education and Athletics for over a decade. She possesses both a Bachelors in Mathematics as well as one in Education and a Masters in Education with a focus in Library Science. She has served as a Founding Director of her own Junior Olympic Volleyball Club with Los Angeles Volleyball Academy and recently started her own business in Spiritual Response Therapy. Her new business, The Clear Estate, specializes in Akashic Record Clearing and Psychic Readings. Within the last year, she has also started DJing Tech House shows as DJ Chakrateeze. She is a graduate of PSI 7 and staffs their Basic Seminars in Orange County.


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