The Ultimate Competition is With Ourselves
“Trust begins to emerge when we have a sense that another person or organization is driven by things other than their own self-gain...
When you compete against everyone else, no one wants to help you. But when you compete against yourself, everyone wants to help you.“
“If there were no trust, then no one would take risks. No risks would mean no exploration, no experimentation and no advancement of the society as a whole.” – Simon Sinek, Start With Why
If there’s one aspect of my personality I work to change, it’s my inherent competitiveness in most aspects of my life. An underlying desire to get the upper hand in conversation. To come out on top in sports. To be atop the leader board in my career. That mindset limits you in what you can achieve, because as Sinek points out, if you’re perceived as pursuing self-gain, then you’re viewed as a competitor in a world of scarcity.
The thing is, the world isn’t aligned against you at all. The world is doing the best it can to survive another day, put food on the table, to get through the awkwardness of an initial conversation and get back to what they were doing before they encountered you. Sure, some people are completely out for themselves, but they’re easy to spot after a few words or by reading body language. And what do we do when we read that? We recoil a bit and put up our defenses. Why would we expect others to treat us differently should we telegraph “ME” in everything they do?
Competing with others distracts us from rising to personal excellence. It takes our focus off of our own improvement and onto others. We don’t achieve mastery without focusing on incremental improvement. Keeping up with the Joneses draws us away from our own inner voice and the things that must be done. But worse, it positions us against them.
Competition has its place, of course. What would sports or chess or debate be without competition? A dull world of participation awards, that’s what it would be. Serena Williams or Tom Brady didn’t rise up to become the best in their individual sports chasing participation awards. They may have started with a personal chip on their shoulders that drove them to succeed at uncommon levels, but each is quick to pull up others around them too. You can be the very best without being an asshole. In reality, the assholes don’t quite reach the pinnacle anyway, because nobody wants to help them.
Reaching mastery doesn’t mean standing atop the bodies of your conquered enemies, it means reaching deeper into ourselves and pulling out the brightest bits of our own possibility. And then turning around and lending a hand to those making the climb themselves. Trust and mutual respect are built in such moments. They, in turn, will turn to lend you a hand in your own moment of need. And together you can rise to greater heights than you might on your own.
Trust in ourselves begins to emerge when we develop our own self-worth. And that comes in keeping promises to ourselves in the work we do. In the increments of effort that matter most, done with consistency and honesty. The ultimate competition is with ourselves, and once we begin to master that we view the rest of the world less as a threat than as a barometer of progress.