The world has become a very competitive place. In Western society, our culture is dominated by professional sports, capitalism, and an “us vs them” political system. This ideology becomes imprinted in our psyches from a young age. It is coupled with the natural drive to compete inherent in humans and leads to a life of striving and comparison.
The striving itself is not a bad thing. But a life of constant comparison, of “keeping up with the Joneses” can lead to perpetual unhappiness and stress.
There is a way around this, however. We can still keep the desire of wanting better without the negative consequences of comparing our work and life to that of someone else.
Run your own race.
It sounds simple, but can be difficult to put into practice especially after being wired by our society and culture to think and act a certain way. It is important to understand, though, that this idea of running your own race can be applied to both our professional and personal lives.
Competition in the markets has been the cornerstone of capitalism for centuries. This idea of competition as being good for the end consumer, and society, is drilled into students at a young age. Movies, books, tv shows, even the news seem to spotlight the most ferocious competitors. There can be a mentality that “the end justifies the means”. People get a kick out of stories of ruthless competition and even destroying adversaries in order to ultimately win.
This has been the way of things for most of history, but I believe we are coming to a shift in perspective.
Gary Vaynerchuck, social media personality and highly successful entrepreneur, has said (I am paraphrasing a bit) that you don’t need to tear down other people’s buildings so that you can build yours.
When you are creating a business, or looking to grow a pre-existing one, it can be so easy to focus on competitors and devise ways to undercut them somehow. While this can work, at times, it ultimately is not the most effective approach. Instead, keep the competitors in the periphery so you know and understand the market, but focus all of your attention and energies into building your own company and brand.
By doing this, you are able to build on your own core values and give your customers or audience what they want. This is as opposed to focusing on giving them what your competitors don’t give them. There is a difference.
The market will then decide if your content, products, marketing, and overall business are valuable to customers. Sometimes you will lose, but you can learn invaluable lessons to apply to your work in the future. You will also be able to go to sleep at night knowing you did the best you could without trying to attack or harm others for the sake of “competition”.
Not all of us will create and run our own businesses, however the guiding principle in this article can be applied to the personal life just as much as the business life. I’d go so far as to argue that it is even more vital we adopt the mentality of running your own race in our daily lives.
It starts at a young age. You are compared to siblings, cousins, friends, and even strangers when it comes to development, reading, writing, playing sports, grades at school, having a boyfriend or girlfriend, etc, etc. Sometimes this can be well-intentioned by our parents, teachers, family, or peers, but it instills in us this need to be better than those around us.
I know this has been my personal experience. In school, for example, I would feel good about getting a high score on a test but would feel even better if my score was higher than that earned by other people. It did not matter if they were friends of mine or not. True elation would occur when I matched or beat the kids in class that were deemed “the smartest”. This carried through all levels of education and into college.
You might want to point out that it isn’t the worst thing to feel good about yourself for doing better than other people. What I would like to point out is that this mentality is a double-edged sword. You feel great when you beat others, but you feel absolutely terrible when you lose to others.
This need for comparison is devastating when mixed together with low self-esteem (as has been my case). You soon find yourself surrounded by, what looks like, tons of successful and happy people. Social media has exacerbated this to a ridiculous level. Go and scroll through Instagram right now and I guarantee you’ll come across posts that make you doubt and question yourself (or maybe it is just me).
Even after a relationship ends, you can’t help but compare your “road to recovery” to that of your ex. If they happen to be more social, or further along in the moving-on process, you feel worse and worse about yourself.
All of this comparison leads to a life of misery.
The solution, therefore, is to stop comparing.
This does not mean that you become blind or ignorant to what people are doing around you. It is fine to check social media, occasionally see how an ex is doing (proceed with utmost caution), and even see how you might be progressing compared to someone else who is doing the same type of work. The key is to not allow yourself to feel positively or negatively about the differences you will find.
Basically, if someone is doing better at something you want to do, be happy for them because they are succeeding. Being able to be genuinely happy for other’s success is very important and will shift your mind away from bitterness. Then, think about what they might have done or are doing to achieve those results and determine whether there is anything you can incorporate or remove from your own work.
For example, someone you follow on Instagram has lost weight and has gotten themselves into great shape. You could allow yourself to get bitter about this and think that life is against you. Or you could be happy for them that they’ve achieved the results they desired and look into what they did to get them. Maybe they cut out dairy and desserts but you refuse to give up ice cream (guilty). You then need to make a decision. Try giving up those things, or keep progressing at your current pace? The choice you make is entirely up to you and based on what you value.
Technically, this is still comparison. But it is not unhealthy competitive comparison to others. Unhealthy, because every person is different and has very unique circumstances which makes it unfair to yourself to compare against someone else.
I am not the first person to say this, but compete against yourself. This is really what “run your own race” means. Do what you can to be better than the you from yesterday, last week, the year before. But don’t be too hard on yourself. Push yourself. Motivate yourself. Inspire yourself. But never talk down to or punish yourself.
To compete healthily and productively with yourself, you need a good dosage of self-love. Otherwise, you risk entering a vicious cycle of self loathing and doubt that will just be affirmed by the harshness in which you view your own progress.
Run Your Own Race
Here are the basics:
- Keep others in your periphery so you are aware of what they are doing and how they are doing it for informational purposes
- Be happy for the success of others
- Focus on what you are trying to build and achieve without allowing the progress of others to distract you
- Compete and track progress only against yourself
- Never let your pursuit of some goal interfere with your self love and self worth
- It is ok to have bad days
- It is ok to fail
- Forgive yourself
- When you do succeed, take the time to enjoy the moment and congratulate yourself
- Be grateful for what you already have and have accomplished
- Life is a marathon, not a sprint
It really is that simple. As with all things, however, the difficulty comes with putting these ideas into practice.
I personally struggle with focusing on just me. I can have awful days where it feels like I will amount to nothing based on comparisons I’ve made to other people my age. I just keep reminding myself that my life and story is different from everyone else’s, just like theirs is from mine. This is not an excuse, just a fact. I then look back and see how much I’ve learned and grown as a person, how much content I have created, how much weight I can lift, etc and I feel better.
You will be pleasantly surprised when you are able to see how far you have come.
You are worthy of success. You are allowed to trip and fall. You have the ability to pick yourself up, dust the dirt off, and get back to running. You got this.
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