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Ducks in a Row: the Damage of an Overly Competitive Culture

by Miki Saxon


Last Friday we looked at the disturbing number of entrepreneurs who suffer from anxiety and depression, exacerbated by the pressures of founding a startup, and too often find their solace in suicide.

Mark Suster wrote how the same problems often haunt success.

Today’s New York Times had a complimentary article, Campus Suicide and the Pressure of Perfection.

There are several compelling points to consider;

  • almost all are young;
  • they are high achievers recognized for ‘crushing it’ — whatever ‘it’ happens to be;
  • they are driven to live up to outside expectations; and
  • they constantly compare themselves to others’ external images as depicted in social media.

The acts required to “keep up with the Joneses” have changed significantly from my under-35 days.

Back then it was your neighbors and school/social/professional circles that comprised the Joneses.

Now it is the no-holds-barred world.

The existential question “Why am I here?” is usually followed by the equally confounding “How am I doing?” In 1954, the social psychologist Leon Festinger put forward the social comparison theory, which posits that we try to determine our worth based on how we stack up against others.

Growing up and in the years since ‘how am I doing’ was never my focus, because I never fit in; never was part of any crowd and certainly never told I was special.

Fortunately, I wasn’t competitive; in fact, competitive has never been part of my personal vocabulary.

Somehow I’ve always known that no matter what I accomplished there would always be people who were richer/smarter/thinner/more popular/more whatever than I.

Unlike those described in the aforementioned articles.

And the pressures have increased exponentially for those susceptible.

In the era of social media, such comparisons take place on a screen with carefully curated depictions that don’t provide the full picture. Mobile devices escalate the comparisons from occasional to nearly constant.

“Curated” is the polite way to say that people lie — not only to convince the world, but probably to convince themselves.

Don’t get caught in this trap; teach yourself to talk about how you feel — to at least one real person, preferably more.

And take time to be there for others who are struggling.

Flickr image credit: Rodney Campbell

3 Responses to “Ducks in a Row: the Damage of an Overly Competitive Culture”
  1. MAPping Company Success Says:

    […] the already tiny startup world will exacerbate the damage done by its ultra-competitiveness and worsen the rates of anxiety, depression and suicide already prevalent within […]

  2. MAPping Company Success Says:

    […] Support group? Really? I haven’t heard of any VC suicides, which isn’t the case with a number of other demographics. […]

  3. MAPping Company Success Says:

    […] spike in teen suicides, along with the increase of suicides at elite colleges and among entrepreneurs, should sound an alarm — one that big data and all the stats in the world […]

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