As unbelievable as it may sound, you can stop competing with everyone else right now.
Okay, you’ll say, “That’s not true. You have to compete for a job position, for a promotion, even for press attention.” Fine. But, what happens when you don’t get that job, promotion or press coverage? No one ever said you’d get up to bat and hit a home run every time. But, that doesn’t mean you don’t keep giving it your very best effort each time you get the chance. Even if he kept missing the ball, Babe Ruth’s famous line still rings true:
“Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.”
He assumed that he would eventually hit one out of the ballpark. Notice, he didn’t focus on what the other players were doing. His attention was on his own performance. Keeping your attention on improvement, not competition, strengthens your skill set, while keeping you in the game. Your performance readily becomes the benchmark for others to beat.
Be self-critical and self-motivated. The idea is to keep your standards high. That way others are watching you. All great athletes are always polishing their physical prowess. Although they’re aware of their direct competitors’ talents, they’re inspired, not threatened. They know if they do their absolute best and leave everything on the court, field, pool, and wherever else they compete, then, they can’t complain.
Most athletes who just lost often say, “I’ll get ‘em next time.” They don’t let failure defeat them. They’re still competing against themselves. If the other athlete outperforms them, they realize they didn’t do their best on that particular day. They don’t fall into despair. They get busy working harder, so they’re ready the next time they compete. Another popular Babe Ruth quote says it best:
“Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.”
Striking out or losing to an opponent just makes driven-to-succeed athletes perfect what needs tweaking. They self-examine. They analyze. They evaluate. Then, they tackle whatever needs improvement. To be their best, they learn to expect, not just accept, criticism.
Have you ever noticed when Olympic gymnasts dismount an apparatus, the first thing you see is their coach talking to them? They lean in when the coach explains exactly what needs to be improved. The elite athletes listen and nod, knowing there’s almost always room for improvement. Elite athletes, even when they seem to achieve perfection and receive extremely high scores, are reviewing what they just did: acknowledging what was on point and what needs work. They are constantly being self-critical, always looking to do better, forever striving for perfection.
Of course, so few people are given such great athletic gifts. So what? We can all still focus on doing our best work, on always perfecting our skills, and on being receptive, not defensive, to criticism. We can be our own coaches, never settling for anything but our full effort, in every task, every report and every presentation. Each and every time. We can challenge ourselves to learn more, do more and be more than we are right now. Then, we know we’re giving 100% of our attention to everything we do. The old saying is true: “There’s no one harder on ourselves than we are.” That is, if our standards are high enough. We must always fight against the failure of mediocrity. We must force ourselves, regardless of our gifts, to give the most we have to offer. Not just sometimes, but all the time. Once again, The Babe made a brilliant point about perseverance:
“It’s hard to beat the person who never gives up.”
That simple statement helps us realize that life’s not a competition…except against yourself.