Why is Competition the Key to Success?

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“Stop competing with others” seems to have become the rallying cry of many self-help blogs, books and gurus which cause many to question: "Is competition necessary for success?". This advice is well-meant, but it is actually a terrible suggestion. Competition is essential for anyone who wants to achieve success. The problem is that many self-help gurus equate competition with comparison when they are actually very different. Comparison involves unfavorably comparing yourself to another person and finding yourself to be worth less as a person due to a sense of not measuring up to the other person. Competition is when you aim to be as good as or better than another person at a specific task or skill. Comparison is feeling that you are lesser as a human being due to being less beautiful than another person. Competition is wanting to sell more than a coworker and be named employee of the month. Comparison is unhealthy and often creates self-destructive habits in an attempt to meet an arbitrary and often impossible standard. Competition is healthy and creates a sense of motivation to reach a specific goal. Comparison gets in the way of success. Competition teaches lessons that are essential for anyone who wants to be successful to learn.

Why competition is necessary for success.

Picture a bodybuilder who goes to the gym to build muscle. He is consistent and spends 45 minutes a day working different muscle groups to achieve a desired physique. However, this bodybuilder works out alone and has no other person to use a frame of reference to challenge him.

In contrast, imagine a bodybuilder who has 3 competitions a year, has concrete goals, and works out with other like-minded competitors who push each other to achieve greater lifts and physiques.

Which of the two would you image winning and having a better outcome?

I would imagine the latter would have a better outcome.

Competition is necessary for success because, like this example, it provides internal and external factors to help you push yourself, learn from failure, mimic those who are successful, and find motivation to constantly improve on whatever skill, sport, business, or personal endeavor.

Let's explore additional reasons why competition is necessary for success:

You don’t get anything you don’t earn.

One of the most valuable things that competition creates in a person is the ability to really work. When you are competing with someone, you only get what you earn. If you want to be better than your opponent, you need to work harder than them. You have to dig deep and push through obstacles. When you run into problems, you cannot quit. If you do, you will never reach your goal. 

It is easy to coast along or let your work ethic slide if you do not have something pushing you toward a goal. Competition, however, gives you an added incentive and provides the motivation necessary to work just a little harder, regardless of whether that means doing a few more pushups, running just one more mile, taking that online class or staying a little bit longer at the office than your coworkers.

A poor outcome does not reflect on your worth as a person.

When you are engaging in competition, it is inevitable that sometimes you will fail. For someone who is unused to failing, it can be easy to take a defeat personally. You may think that the fact that you did not win or fell short of your goal means that you personally failed somehow. Competition, however, teaches you that this is not the case. A poor outcome does not mean that you are somehow worth less than you would have been if you succeeded. It is easy to tie your sense of worth to your successes, but competition helps you resist this unhealthy temptation.

Failure is a teacher, not a disaster.

As a competitor, it is inevitable that you will suffer defeats. The odds are that you will have to deal with a large number of failures before you ever manage a win. What those repeated mistakes force you to realize, however, is that failure is a better teacher than success. Success is often a mixture of your skill, your opponent’s mistakes and pure, dumb luck. That is not to minimize the amount of work that goes in to achieving success, but it does illustrate why success is only a mediocre teacher. How can you tell how much of your success was due to your own skill? Failure, on the other hand, allows you to see clearly what was your fault and what was not. This allows you to recognize what you need to improve so that the next time, you can succeed. 

To reach a goal in the future, you have to sacrifice in the present.

Competition involves setting goals and working hard to reach those goals. It also requires a person to make sacrifices to reach those goals. If you want to be the fastest runner on the team, then you have to put in extra time training. This may mean that you have to miss a movie night with friends in order to practice. If you want to be the best salesperson on your team, then you will have to put in extra hours. Competition forces you to decide what matters more, the goal that you have set for yourself or a bit of fun in the present. Delayed gratification is an essential part of success, but it is not a lesson everyone learns easily. Few things will hammer that lesson home better than competition.

You have to accept what you cannot control.

When you are competing, you are inevitably going to deal with forces that are beyond your control. You cannot do anything about poor weather, angry referees, an unexpected addition to your opponent’s team or a sudden injury or illness on your own team. What you can control, however, is how you respond to those unexpected circumstances. You can rage and scream ineffectually, or you can adjust your strategy and keep moving forward. Life will throw you curveballs both inside of and outside of competitions, but competing teaches you how to roll with the punches and even make unexpected circumstances work in your favor. 

No one can do it all alone.

Someone who competes is acutely aware that they cannot do everything by themselves.
They rely on their teammates to achieve victory. Even in more individual sports and pursuits, no one reaches their goals alone. They have help from coaches and mentors, encouragement from friends and family and the advice of others. Teamwork is not always an easy skill to learn. Individual pursuits and sports can make it easy for a person to get bigheaded and think that they alone achieved success. Competition, however, forces you to acknowledge those who helped you on your way. 

Competition is too often seen as a bad thing, but it is actually essential for anyone who wants to be successful. There are lessons that competition teaches that you are unlikely to learn in any other way. So, decide on your goal, find your opponent and start learning from the competition.
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