Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset: Dealing with Competitiveness and Academic Insecurity

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By Low Jing Kai (24S03H) and Wang Xinxuan (24S06L, Peer Helper)

Your resident Aunties and Uncles are back with our Ask Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset column, this time as a collaboration between Raffles Press and Peer Helpers’ Programme (PHP)! Ever wanted to rant about that someone you just can’t stand? Overwhelmed with too many feelings? Submit your confessions to and we’ll give them our best shot. This column will be published at the end of every month.

In an environment which is described as a pressure cooker and competitiveness is so ingrained in our culture, how do you stay healthy when there is such a strong feeling of “I might lose out”?

Distressed Darren

Dear Distressed Darren, 

Feeling that we are not doing enough, especially when we feel our peers are performing better than us, is a feeling shared by nearly every student. This feeling can motivate us to work harder and reach greater heights, yet, it can also lead us to become overcome with self-despair and lead to unnecessary stress. This is why we need to know how we can manage this feeling of inadequacy and not let it get the better of us.

This feeling is tightly knit with competitiveness, which itself can manifest in different forms. This includes but is not limited to competition within a friend group, within a class, or against the cohort. Different students will view competition in different ways and the reasons for why they feel competitive can vary. Some students may want to be at the top to feel the gratification of being seen as superior to their peers, while others may feel concerned for their prospects and view performing better as improving their chances for future opportunities and growth. 


Regardless of whether competition is based on superficial aspirations (pride, jealousy) or grounded in more genuine concerns (standing out, not falling behind), competition is a natural part of life, especially in Singapore where being ‘kiasu’, which translates to a fear of losing out, is a so-called national trait, where Singaporeans like to label ourselves as ‘kiasu’, going above and beyond in our work to reassure ourselves that they are doing enough. This can be beneficial to us, enabling us to cover all our bases and excel in our work.

However, it can also lead to intense self doubt and self depreciation, which is why it is important to understand that competition need not be negative, and when thought of as a motivating force based on one’s current standards rather than a damning metric of one’s own capabilities, can lead to breakthroughs and constant self-improvement.

So, when does competition become too much? When one becomes only concerned with the comparison between self and others and starts setting unrealistic goals, competition takes a strenuous toll on one’s mental health. This is a byproduct of the aforementioned ‘pressure cooker’ and manifests as a snowballing of negative attitudes arising when one does not perform as well as one may have wanted to. This causes one to lose sight of their own mental health and become obsessed with achieving their unrealistic goals. 

For example, one may start taking on multiple commitments, such as volunteering work or leadership, before finding themselves unable to cope with the much higher workload and stress. One may find themselves signing up for extra curricula which they may not have the energy to do, or attend courses which they may not find enjoyable or suitable for them.

This is all so that they can feel that they are up to par with their more academically fervent peers, which often leads to demoralisation and even defeatism, occurring when one continuously fails to meet their own, oftentimes inflated expectations, becoming trapped in constant ‘self and others’ comparison, where one’s faults become glaringly clear. 


This unfortunately can happen to any one of us, even for those of us who feel well adjusted in our current positions. I know that there are some of us out there who are happy with our current progress, with scores that are up to par. However, when we see others moving seemingly ahead of us, even when we are meeting our own standards, we may fall into the cycle of feeling ‘I am not doing enough’, where we may feel our efforts are not comparable to those of our peers.

The ‘pressure cooker’ takes its toll on us and as we get closer and closer to the ‘A-levels’, the build-up of stress and insecurity can spill over into irrational decision-making, where we may slip into feelings of despair and inadequacy, making decisions that could potentially sabotage ourselves, such as taking on commitments that we cannot handle, leading to tiredness which hinders our ability to do well. This once again emphasises the importance of properly harnessing our competitiveness as a tool which pushes us to work harder but also does not lead us to stumble in a mad dash against our peers.

So how do we maintain a level head and not be consumed by ‘kiasu’-ness? For some students, this can be quite challenging, especially when we often see students in RI having a ton of commitments ranging from academic competitions to CCA commitments, perhaps even doing projects outside of school and seeing them apparently juggle things like a pro. It may be tempting to want to emulate their successes, and depending on what you are willing to sacrifice in terms of health and lifestyle, it could very well be possible. However, let us remember that behind the scenes, these students could be sacrificing precious sleep as well as personal time in order to juggle their commitments, which requires dedication and takes a toll on one’s health.

Therefore, when evaluating whether one should do as they have done, it is wise to think about the effort and endurance required and whether we are willing and more importantly, capable of making the sacrifices to our health and lifestyle in order to reach their level. The constant stream of information and opportunities can make it challenging for us to prioritise our health because there is a strong feeling of FOMO, or “fear of missing out”. However, it is essential to find a balance between living life to the fullest and maintaining our well-being, and that requires knowing yourself, your limits and your strengths. 

Focus on what truly matters to you

Before diving into strategies for staying healthy in the face of FOMO, it’s crucial to define your priorities. Take some time to reflect on what truly matters to you in life. What are your long-term goals and values? After all, we all have the same amount of time each day but it depends on us to decide how we want to spend it. By clearly understanding our priorities, we can make more informed choices such that we can dedicate our time and efforts to activities we are passionate about. 


Setting realistic boundaries

The constant barrage of opportunities can lead to overcommitment and burnout. Many have suffered from taking up too many commitments that they were not passionate about as it is both physically and mentally draining. Setting realistic boundaries and knowing your priorities are essential to maintain your physical and mental health. Learn to say no when necessary, and make room for rest and self-care. By doing so, you’ll ensure that you have the energy to enjoy the experiences you choose to partake in fully.

Practice self-care

Let’s clear up one common misconception: self-care is not synonymous with self-indulgence or being selfish. Self-care means taking care of yourself so that you can be healthy,  you can do your daily duties, you can help and care for others, and you can do all the things you need to and want to accomplish in a day. Self-care can take on different forms for every one of us. A good starting point is to take time to reflect on activities you enjoy doing and that give you a sense of meaning. From there, you can start setting small goals that could easily become a part of your daily routine. 

Have a meaningful life outside of school

Having hobbies or interests can help one to destress and even help us reevaluate our choices and priorities. Going out with friends every once in a while or participating in a fun external activity helps take our mind off competitiveness and can help us rejuvenate when we return to school.

Reduce negativity in your life

Surround yourself with people who you know are willing to support you when times are down and know that you will do the same for them. Avoid those who constantly compare grades and view self-worth as intrinsically related to academics. Encourage collaboration among your peers, while also not straying from healthy competition, where you can lift each other up and learn from each other’s mistakes.

Do not feel discouraged when you see those who you think may be doing better in life on social media platforms such as Instagram as people often present their positive side on social media platforms instead of their struggles. Rather, learn from what they have done well in, refocus on yourself and see what you can do for your own self-improvement. Try not to be wrapped up with constant comparison of self against others, because after all, everybody progresses at their own pace.

The RI environment can be one which fosters personal development and growth and need not be something that brings about unwanted exhaustion.  As we explore the different opportunities presented to us and as we interact and form meaningful connections at RI, let us all remind ourselves to take some time off to destress and clear our minds, so that we can make informed and healthy decisions.


Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset

If you need anyone to talk to about any issues you might be facing, do drop by My Rest
Space near Marymount gate and talk to one of our peer helpers! We’re open on
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 3 – 5 p.m, and Wednesday 11.00 a.m. – 1.00
p.m. If you would like to meet a peer helper on a regular basis, do email us a request at or fill in our request form at our website

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