Maybe you have heard of this and maybe you haven't but there is a basic philosophy lesson that gets taught in most degree courses the world over and it is called the jar of life. A friend of mine sent me a link to this in an email about a year ago and it has stayed with me ever since so I suggest you give it a watch and see what you think about it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJQ8RK6lnuU If you check the link you can view the lesson in action. The basic premise (assuming you didn't click the link yet or cannot view it for whatever reason) is that if you fill a glass jar with golf balls it appears to be full until you then add some small pebbles which will fill in the gaps between the golf balls. It then looks like its full once more but of course it isn't because there is still yet more space to put in sand or some other fine grain and the jar will once again appear to be full, except for the fact that amazingly enough there is still more space in the jar even with the previous items inside, and that can be any form of liquid that will fill the remaining space in the jar. So the golf balls which are the largest items in the jar, are there to represent the more important aspects of your life like family, friends, and personal growth. The pebbles would represent secondary importance like a home, job, car etc. the things that help to sustain the previous items and so on and so on. If you were to put the same items in the jar in a different order then they would not fit no matter how hard you try to make them. The point being that as long as you focus on the important things first you will always be able to fit the other stuff around it. Its about priorities in a nutshell. So anyway why I have told you this will become clear with the further examples I hope so please read on.
I ran into an old friend of mine about six months after that whom I had studied with a few years ago at college. We weren't on the same course but we were friends and we used to smoke on breaks and chat, you get the drift. We had the usual catch up chat of how are you what have you been up to bla bla bla, and she told me a very intriguing story about a competition she had been involved in. She was a performing arts student at the time and a friend of hers was doing film, and it was this friend that was entering the competition and needed an actress to play homeless girl in her film entry. Now my friend agreed to this and on the day of the filming got chatting to one of the people running the competition and it just so happened that she knew of someone who was looking for an intern in a theatre. Not as an actress but as a set design assistant and basically she managed to talk her way into it because she was quite artsy as well. Now that internship turned into a job and that job got her chatting to someone else who needed someone to do some acting work for them and long story short she is now at the BRIT school and doing well for herself. So even though she herself did not enter this competition her involvement lead to various other opportunities opening up and due to her open mindedness at the time it actually panned out perfectly.
Now my final example as to why I have changed my mind is because whilst studying myself last year I was forced to take part in a competition that was run by the RSA. This is a fairly common one to do if you are on a graphic design degree and holds you in high esteem for the future if you do well on it! you can look it up here http://www.thersa.org/sda I actually did not do well on it at all and got absolutely no accolades from it whatsoever but what it did for me was force me to think about the process of my designing in a whole new way and one that got me to be much more creative and in fact collaborative then I was naturally used to. It basically turned me into an expert mingler which has in turn landed me various opportunities since having taken part in the competition. So yes you are correct in thinking that I am taking a rather philosophical stand point on wether or not you should do a design competition or two in your journey to becoming a designer but why not. If it is more persuasive than listing the pros and cons then I feel I will have succeeded.
The lessons I learned much like the jar of golf balls trick had to come in that particular order or I do not think I would be writing this down now at all, e.g. had I not seen that video I would not have compared it to my friends experience thus committing her tale to my memory banks, and had she not told me that story I may not have viewed my failed attempt at the RSA competition in the way that I did. It was a necessary part of my development not only as a designer but as a person because you can apply these principles to virtually anything in your life and probably see positive results. It is all a question of perspective. So instead of looking like I used to at all the reasons of why it was a terrible idea and what it would costs my current life to get involved in something new and different like a competition, I decided that I was going to take the opposite tack and see it as in investment. This would be an investment of experience and an opportunity to learn. and maybe get a new perspective or friend or client or contact or whatever. I could only find out what it was whilst doing it. This is why I recommend you getting involved in design competitions.
I have recently taken it upon myself to enter a competition of sorts which I would previously thought to be a waste of my time based on this new outlook of mine. I am not entering alone so it is a chance to collaborate and because it is based in film it will allow me the chance to get to know some more industry bods like film makers, photographers, directors and such. So even if it doesn't go anywhere I will have gained some valuable experience and something great for my portfolio which is really why im doing it in the first place. Winning isn't really the end goal. Don't get me wrong if we do win that will be great because it will come with all kinds of other perks and benefits that I cannot possibly account for at this current stage in time but you get the picture. All I can say is that I think it will be of great benefit to you and your career if you get involved in some competitions but don't forget to choose wisely because getting involved in any old competition willy nilly will get you know where. Try hard to assess if the competition does have any benefits that are relevant to you right now rather than completely disconnected.