"Where is the dividing line between being industrious and competitive? I have a new job and I don't want a repeat where I was frustrated out of my last job simply because I appeared to outsmart my former supervisor"
You have asked a very complicated question in a very simple way, and as you will see below, there are many threads that one can weave from your seemingly straightforward question
On the face of it, all you want to know is how you might better manage relationships with colleagues at work in future. You might as well have wanted to know why some people have long and happy marriages and others divorce after a short time.
You might also at another level want to know why some tribes and or countries go to war with each other. Communication or lack of it is at the centre of all these questions.
The bottom line in many instances where people come to blows with each other is often the fact that the contestants fail to read/understand the intentions of the other.
There is for example some credible evidence that the Second World War might have taken a different trajectory had the then British prime minister been able to read better the intentions Hitler had at their two meetings.
Allegedly, the PM was so depressed at the events that he failed to grasp the fact that Hitler intended to invade Poland. Upon his return to London, he told relieved and excited Britons that he had had a good meeting and that war had been averted. As they say, the rest is history.
Closer to the family and by way of example of the marital problems we come across as mental health workers, is the case of a couple that came to us recently.
The lady came from a family of academics and indeed when they met, she was doing an MBA, and her plans were very clear. She was going to do a PhD and go into academia, like her parents who were her role models.
He was also doing an MBA, but for him the plan was to go into farming and to perfect pig rearing that the family had excelled in.
The marriage lasted all of four years and a set of twins. She was ready to go back to school and he felt he needed help with the pigs now that his parents were growing older and had plans to slow down on the farm. He spoke to his parents and she to hers.
There was no common ground when it came to a choice between pigs and a PhD. Going their separate ways seemed the natural solution. Following many weeks of marital therapy, and with increasing insight on the part of the now estranged couple, it became clear that the pigs were innocent!
The problem was the young man who had the fear that he would have a wife with a PhD while he was ‘a mere pig farmer’! Put this way, and in a light bulb moment, it became clear that they could both have their cake and eat it. Why not work on the farm together and pursue further studies? Why must it be one or the other?
Away from the strong negative influence/energy of their now ageing parents, the couple came back together, and the last we heard of them they were back together and happy as they were following their dreams.
Coming back to your question, one must wonder if what you ask about being industrious as opposed to being competitive might be a state of mind, that is not reflected in the minds of those that you work with. Like was the case with Hitler and the PM, what do the words spoken mean or not spoken mean? Exact same words carried different meaning to two people.
Are you and your interlocutors reading and understanding the words in the same way, or does one read the raised eyebrows and wide eyes as surprise while the other reads threat.
Is the rapid, raised voice at work evidence of excitement about the job or is a sign of insecurity for those around you. To what extent are you emotionally intelligent and able to correctly read the social settings of the workplace.
Many highly intelligent people are poor at interpreting the social cues at the workplace and end up in trouble with their bosses because like the pig farmer and his wife neither has taken time to understand the fears and the aspirations of the other.
The good news is that it is possible to improve your emotional intelligence, meaning that you can learn how to become more aware of your emotions and how they affect the things that you do, and more crucially in your case, that you can read and understand the emotional states of those around you.