When you hear the “Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy,” there are a few things that stand out to you. Math. Science. Well, duh. When learning more about the school, there are several things that are frequently reiterated. You hear about how rigorous the academic life is, how sleep does not even exist, how the most successful people are the ones that keep themselves constantly busy, and how we must always be “advancing the human condition.” IMSA is associated with many habit, both favorable and unfavorable, but one ever-present habit lies in the roots of the school itself: competition.
I can truthfully say that before and during my first few months at IMSA, I tried to avoid competition. It was my worst fear. Now, it can be anything from my number one motivator to a haunting killer. Here at IMSA, we truly see competition EVERYWHERE, and it varies widely depending on the scenario.
Often, competition has a sort of dualistic connotation: it is either good or bad. Some people see it as good because competing with other students makes them work or strive harder. Some people see it as bad because competing with other students intimidates them or makes them want to give up. Some people are just indifferent to it. I think competition can be good, bad, neutral, or a combination of everything. In a basic sense, competition is striving to gain something, and we have all seen how nasty competition can get, whether it is within sports, clubs, or League of Legends (LoL) tournaments.
However, how do we, as IMSA students, define competition? I have seen competition boost students. They compete to see who can get the highest grades on tests, who can win an academic/athletic competition, who can win an election, who can get the highest score on agar.io, etc. These are usually things students take pride in and often thought to be “friendly competition.” However, sometimes students compete to see who can join the most extracurriculars, who can take the hardest classes and load up on their schedule, who can get the least amount of sleep, or who can procrastinate the most. For some reason, some IMSA students also take pride in these things. I cannot even count the number of times I have heard people saying, “Hey! I pulled an ‘all-nighter’ and still got an 80% on the test! I could’ve gotten higher, but I was playing LoL for three hours!” This raises the question of whether IMSA students have been raised to compete for the “right” or “good” reasons, and if so – what are these reasons and why do we define them as “right”?
Many IMSA students have an innate sense of competition – to put ourselves at the top of different things. Sometimes, these things can results in good or bad consequences, but we still do them because we want label ourselves as the “best of the best”. Come on, we are smart kids, so think wisely: does getting less sleep really help your future? Does skipping meals make you any healthier? Does joining more and more clubs really help you get into a better college? Perhaps all high school students should think more about the consequences of competition in some scenarios, because it can affect them deeply. Of course, we all get struck by the benefits and detriments of competition at times. This does not mean to avoid competition in any sense. My rule of thumb is that if whatever I am doing is helping me and I enjoy doing it, then go for it. So, let’s try to uphold healthy, inspiring, and fun competition.