Knowledge and Competition

Oghenovo Obrimah, PhD
5 min readFeb 5, 2018


Albert Einstein is renowned to have been a poor performer in High School; yet look how he turned out at end of the day. In so far as contributions to societal knowledge and advancement are concerned, I doubt anyone else in that High School classroom achieved quite as much as Einstein did in his lifetime.

Do not get me wrong. I believe being a great Dad, Husband, Neighbor, Volunteer Soccer Coach, Colleague etc. is greatness in its own corner. Some of the greatest people in the world end up touching only a few lives in their small corners of the world. We may not know of them because they never became famous. But God knows. We must reserve some special appreciation, however, for those in our societies who advance knowledge, advancements whose practical outcomes render our lives so much easier and better.

If instead of focusing on developing at his own pace, Einstein had focused on competing with other kids in that classroom, the resulting loss of focus on personal development and knowledge acquisition may have led him in some whole other direction. Clearly, if a band wagon effect had induced him to become an investment banker, as opposed to a physicist, proof of E=mc squared would totally have been out of reach.

The focus on competition within context of formal education is ruining objective of personal development and focus on knowledge acquisition in today’s world. Kids in Elementary School have no business focusing on competition with each other. If kids in Elementary School only learn how to compete, when will they learn how to get along with others? How will they learn to make their own choices? When will they learn independence from the crowd? You may regard these questions as idealistic, but therein in itself lies the problem. How exactly do we fix a world that has become too competitive if people sneer at notion of a less competitive world?

Many of the problems in capitalist economies derive from too much of a focus on competition — competition for the sake of competition. It is not inconceivable that some small towns in the United States lost jobs to outsourcing that a company knew well ahead of time would produce mere pittance in additional profits. But other companies were, so they also jumped on the bandwagon.

We can argue for more of a focus on competition in High School because kids specialize in certain subjects and compete for spots at top universities. Eventually, however, it is the quality of universities attended, and absolute quality of their personal performance in university (‘A’ versus ‘B’ average etc.) which affects job placements.

In the final analyses and in so far as access to careers are concerned, relative performance of others does not matter. Only personal absolute performance matters for job market access.

It is the case then that while competition must be encouraged in High School, absolute nature of university performance must be brought to attention of High School students (as a mediating factor). Knowledge of this mediating factor among High School students helps ensure competition in High School does not become so intense it destroys teenagers capacity to engage in socially meaningful interactions. Oh and by the way, we are not here talking partying as socially meaningful interaction.

While I was in High School, we ran a three-semester school year. Due to some political change, we needed to alter the school calendar, resulting in a one-off year during which we ended up with four semesters for the school year. I ranked fourth, second, and third (not necessarily in this order) during the first three semesters. At end of the fourth semester, aggregated performance over all four semesters ranked me First over course of the entire school year. This performance earned me a tuition scholarship for the next school year. I repeated this sort of performance during the only other school year during which I was eligible for the scholarship. Never once during either of the school years in mention did I set target of beating anyone else in the ranking. Every year, I merely resolved to do my best. This was how I ended up with one of three best aggregate performances in combined, English, Chemistry, and Mathematics two years in a row. The scholarship rewarded breadth of performance and knowledge (well roundedness), something we need to do more of in today’s world.

When we play the competition game, energy spent today is not available to us tomorrow, we experience then lows and highs. In sports, athletes do not have any choice. The Chinese guy — Hyeon Chung — who beat Djokovic in course of the Australian Open made it all the way to the Semi-Final, but ran out of gas. In sports, however, it is better to run out of gas in the Semi-Final than run out of gas in the Quarter-Final. In sports, athletes do not have a choice. Winning at all legal ethical costs today, but with simultaneous increase in risk of losing tomorrow trumps losing today.

Education or Life is not sports. A win at all ‘legal ethical costs’ today mentality can until reversed destroy all future tomorrows.

After all, what good is there in beating all the competition then finding out focus on competition turned you into exactly what you have no desire for, placed you in a career from which you are unable to derive any delightful satisfaction?

When we stay the course on on our own path of personal development, steady, consistent, progressive discharge and acquisition of energy ensures we are able to maintain consistency in performance, consistency in acquisition of knowledge. Consistency produces progression and success of which we are able to take ownership. While consistency does not necessarily imply effectiveness and efficiency, I assume these qualities are embedded in the sort of consistency I am motivating. Consistency ends up being effective and efficient because we know why we value certain types of successes (careers) over others; we know we have capacity for chosen successes; and we are willing to persevere for success in chosen paths. No matter what others choose to do with their lives, we own and are able to take responsibility for our choices.

Holding true to our own path, holding true to focus on knowledge and personal development trumps focus on competing with others within context of formal education.

We need more of focus on path progression, understanding of who we are, and less of focus on competition if we are to regain our focus on knowledge, if we are to become who we truly are, as opposed to whatever our competition suggests we should be. At end of it all, we arrive at mindfulness and success, and daily routines of work life from which we derive delightful satisfaction.

When we focus on knowledge that helps us become the best versions of who we truly are, we make the most of formal education and create a society with much less of personal angst, angst which tends to spill over into interactions with neighbors or co-workers.

If you and I do not in our own corners commit to change advocated, for whom exactly do we wait?



Oghenovo Obrimah, PhD

Educator and Researcher, Believer in Spirituality, Life is serious business, but we all are pilgrims so I write about important stuff with empathy and ethos