Monday, January 23, 2012

My biggest competitor

Growing up, I was a huge Bulls fan during the Jordan era.  I was always enthralled watching Jordan take over a game at will.  I also admired his ferocious competitiveness.  I believe his competitiveness was much of what set him apart from all of the other elite players.

From Sam Smith's book, The Jordan Rules:

"Stories of Jordan's competitiveness were legendary around the Bulls.  When former teammate Rod Higgins beat him in ping pong, he went out and bought a ping-pong table and became the best player on the team.  He took up golf in college and was playing to a reported 6 handicap by 1990.  He'd play games of cards with the ferocity of Mike Tyson going for a knockout.  He hated to lose and took it personally."

I don't think any acting was required for this:

I wonder what the source was for Jordan's competitiveness.  Was it simply the will to win or was there more to it than that?

In my opinion, there are two types of competitiveness - competitiveness against others, and competitiveness against yourself.  I'd like to think that I have a healthy competiveness against others - my motivations are certainly fueled by seeing what others accomplish.  But on a much more prevalent basis I wage a very, very strong battle against myself and my own ego.  I am by far my own biggest competitor.  I am rarely satisfied with what I've achieved and I always think I can do better.

When I get performance reviews or any kind of feedback, it might be overwhelmingly positive but I will focus almost exclusively on the bad/constructive areas and disregard everything else.

When I make mistakes, I know I should just learn from it and move on.  Instead, I tend to dwell on those mistakes for a long time. 

In interviews when I get asked what my biggest weakness is, my standard and honest answer is that it's hard for me to NOT take constructive feedback personally.

I've seen many folks who are able to let their failures just roll off their backs.  Not me.  I am about as thick-skinned as a piece of Saran Wrap.
Sadly, even if you do nothing, somebody will still criticize you.
One of my guiding beliefs has been that hard work would always get you were you wanted to go.  Unfortunately, I have been scarred by some career challenges and various other incidents in which this belief was disproved.  At the end of the day, though, I almost always want to put forth my very best effort.  Admittedly I've wondered many times if my valiant efforts were worth it, but ultimately this belief prevails.

To this day, I am still learning to accept, albeit with a certain bitterness, that there are certain areas in which hard work and effort is not enough.  Obviously you can rarely, if ever go wrong by working hard.  However, no matter how hard I work I will probably never become a Nobel Laureate or a United Nations diplomat.  Likewise, as a runner I will never win a gold medal or national championship.  Heck, I will never come close to even placing within my age group at my local neighborhood race.

Yet, the internal competitiveness still rages on. 

I've read from countless sources that you should do most of your training runs at a comfortable pace, that even in speed training you shouldn't train at maximum speed, that you generally shouldn't increase your mileage by more than about 10% each week, that it's okay to cut your workouts short if things don't feel good.

One would think that these are all easy guidelines to follow.  However, I battle much more against training too aggressively than I do with not training enough.  My inclination is to push myself to the max at every single workout, sometimes to the point of absurdity.  This is because my ego tells me that I should be able to do these things.  When I can't or don't, I get frustrated.  I have to try to remind myself of the injuries or burnout that I've sustained in the past, which were even more frustrating.  But these can be easy to forget when you're unhappy with your progress.

I've debated to myself whether it's better to try something and fail than to just not try at all.  Ultimately I do think it's better to try and fail.  Although, sometimes the fear of failure can be overwhelming.  However, I believe and remind myself that the greatest are not defined by their successes, but by how they respond to adversity.  It's easy to want to give up when faced with challenges - and I believe this is a good thing, because it means that we're pushing ourselves.  I also believe that it takes the most courage to come back after the missed opportunities and to keep moving forward, no matter what direction you choose.  That is the biggest competitive battle of all, very much internally but also externally.

On a related note, I absolutely love this video for its indelible images of competitiveness, agony, and glory.

In short, I'll probably never stop teetering the line between motivation and insanity.  I will never win the competition against my own ego.  In the end, maybe that's a good thing.  But that will probably never stop me from trying.


  1. i am definitely driven more by my own internal competition than from others. this is like you said both good and means you can always find ways to convince yourself things you do aren't good enough.

    1. Isn't it amazing? You would think that we would be the most understanding of ourselves since we know ourselves the most, but sadly it's so not the case...