Here's a simple question you will surely hate answering.
If you are doing something in a group or social or non-solo setting, and someone else then does that something with more facility, quickness, grace, deftness, depth and breadth of skill or knowledge
was that person trying to "beat" you?
or was that person simply doing what he/she could?
If someone knows more than you about a subject, is she trying to put you down when she talks about that subject?
If someone's better than you at a sport, or an aspect of that sport, is he trying to make you feel small when playing that sport in your presence?
If someone's better than you at using a tool or device, is that person trying to belittle you when using that tool or device with you as witness?
From the time I was small, people who were better than I am/was at something were not ever experienced negatively. If I met a person who could do something better than I could, I wasn't embarrassed or emasculated or existentially eviscerated. If someone beat me in a running race, I didn't fall to the ground and cry in a tantrum or run to hide behind a building or rock while contemplating suicide.
If someone got a higher grade on a test or quiz or paper in a subject I enjoyed and either consciously or subconsciously was driven to master, at some level, I didn't feel like I should commit seppuku.
Why would I?
I didn't imagine myself the greatest in the universe at anything, let alone everything.
Here, some people may say this:
"Chet, you have the attitude of one who has won, placed first, got the only A+ or 100, etc., at some point. What about people who never do better than mid-pack, no matter what they do?"
To which I must reply:
I can't ever recall getting the only A+ or 100 in a scholastic matter, nor the "best in class" designation on a paper or report. I did win foot races in PE class, and could swim the length of the pool faster than my friends, but I didn't compete in Track or Swimming for any team or school.
In college and law school, sometimes my test answers were used as models for classroom discussion. These occurrences surprised me, as I've never been a 4.0 student.
I had some unexpected victories in the early days of my legal work.
I scored a few goals as a lacrosse player, and as a soccer player. I've hit a few HRs in intramural and work-related softball, sometimes in clutch situations. Hoovered some ground balls with a whip to 1st to shut someone down at a pivotal point while playing SS or 3B, even.
None of that was done with an eye toward making you feel inferior. Ever.
I don't compete with you.
I compete with me.
And that's how it's always been, and how it always will be. If you think I'm trying to make you feel small, you'd better go get some counseling.
I'm trying to make myself feel small.**
You're not even in the picture. Even if it's a lacrosse game and we're facing off, I'm trying to face off better than my last 25 faceoffs. I'm not trying to beat you. I'm improving my game.
And that's the whole picture. There's nothing more to it.
I pursue personal excellence.
Maybe that's what makes you feel small. Maybe you can't pursue it, and so....?
Sometimes, when competing with myself, I lose. Big. Sometimes I quit, and walk off the pitch.
Sometimes, when doing a solo bike ride, I start out with Objective A, but midway through my climb I change my plan to Objective A/2 or A/4.
Once upon a time I tried to be an entrepreneur despite knowing I'm not a salesman or marketer or psy-op-user. The mid-path realization that sales/marketing were essential made the entire project, a full 3 years of my life, become a black hole.
The pursuit of excellence became the achievement of its opposite!
I do not offer this brief tale of failure as a navel-gaze, as an attempt to be a 21st Century Hipster who is neoplastic-irony embodied.
It's just an example.
You have to know when to walk off the pitch.
If you're afraid to step onto the pitch in the first place, I don't think you should be blaming those who are happily playing, accusing them of trying to make you feel small.
I think you should accept your present position but understand we all can improve, and if you want to be out there on the pitch badly enough, you'll find a way to get there.
Just don't bother me with your carping from the sidelines. I only care to hear from those who gained the pitch and played there.
--Chet Redweld, whose path hasn't always been smooth -- if ever.
** Though I'm not really trying for that "feel small" self-abuse endpoint,
I'm really trying to see if I can be better than the last time I tried
it. If I succeed, the last attempt will be lesser by comparison. It's
unhealthy, though, to want to feel small, or to let yourself feel
small. So I don't really chase that.