Many of us have goals we want to accomplish. These can span from the short-term to the long-term, and be of a trivial nature or significantly important. Getting into a good university, for example, is a long-term and very substantial objective. It requires copious amounts of dedication, work and pre-planning.That being said, the reason we are here today is because we competed with others and managed to prove that we were better, in some form.

It is frequently stated that competition helps to motivate people to work harder, serving as a sort of push to force a person to put more effort into what they are doing. However, rarely do people talk about the consequences of competition. We say that competition is a great way to inspire people to work harder and achieve new heights, but such a statement does not always prove to be true a majority of the time.

Although we are exposed to the concept of competition in multiple forms, we are most familiar with the contest that is school. This competition usually involves the academic or athletic side, although it is not unusual for people to immerse themselves in both. Whether you accept it or not, you are always competing against others in most activities you do, with the ramifications also being similar in effect. Take for example, BCMB 311 or BCMB 401: most students in these classes are aspiring to become involved in some type of chemical-biological profession, encompassing future doctors, pharmacists and dentists. As such, they are all competing for limited spaces for their future schools of study; not all of them will be accepted.

Only those who prove themselves to be "the best of the best" will successfully enter, while the others settle for the leftovers and scramble over each other for them. There's no doubt that all of these students, and those in other majors, have felt significant amounts of stress as they try to do their best to get high marks on exams that seem to punish their every mistake with unforgiving red streaks. However, for those whose grades are lower, such stress can be heavily amplified.

We know what the effects of stress can do, but there are other factors besides this involved in competition. How would you react if you were forced to compete against others who are extremely intelligent and hardworking? Would you keep working even if you could never reach their level of performance? I say this because such a context can have a powerful effect on how well you do, whether it is in the classroom or on the field.

Suppose that you are preparing for an exam, and there are only so many As that can be assigned to students. You know that there are other students who continually get these slots, but you are not sure if you should put forth the anguish and wasted effort into studying for what would encompass an A. You try your best, but it seems that you just can't make the cut for the grades. Would you study just enough for a B? It seems strange to do this – just study for the A, most people would say. Sadly, since we are not all such talented human beings, only a few people would get the A in the again, while the others would settle for the lower grades. In a sense, if the odds were more even, you would have a greater chance of being on top relative to the amount of work you put in.

However, if you know the odds are heavily stacked against you, there is a higher chance that you will be discouraged, and as a result your abilities will be reduced. This is, fortunately or unfortunately, the basis of our successes and our failures. Although competition is a popular way to help people become more focused and augment their abilities, it also has its downsides. There are other methods to help people become successful, and competition is only one of many. Instead of telling people to fight and compete with each other as they learn, we could change the learning style to "group-learning," with people teaching others who are struggling so that they too can help increase group knowledge and togetherness, with an additional emphasis of their membership in a global community.

— Jan Urbano is a junior in biological sciences. He can be reached at jurbano@utk.edu.