I recently finished reading a book called Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek, which I will be doing book review about later. However, one part of the book stuck with me in particular, and I wanted to share it.
In the Chapter entitled “The New Competition” there is a story about Ben Comen. Ben has Cerebral palsy and despite this he runs in marathons. Which in the first place is awesome and amazing, but the point Sinek is making is not the typical “when things are tough” point.
“Everyone else finishes the race in about twenty-five minutes. It usually takes Ben more than forty-give minutes… [but] something amazing happens after about twenty-five minutes. When everybody else is done with their race, everyone comes back to run with Ben. Ben is the only runner who, when he falls, someone else will help pick him up. Ben is the only runner who, when he finishes, has a hundred people running behind him… What Ben teaches us is special. When you compete against everyone else, no one wants to help you. But when you compete against yourself, everyone wants to help you. Ben starts his race with a very clear sense of WHY he’s running. He’s not there to beat anyone but himself. Ben never loses sight of that. His sense of WHY he’s running give him strength to keep going. To keep pushing.” (223)
It’s an important lesson to learn.
I’ve always struggled with this. I constantly compare myself to others, usually with negativity towards myself, and in this social media driven world many others do as well. When I go to fitness classes, especially yoga, I always am embarrassed by how inflexible I am and hoping that no one notices how not-flat my stomach is or how thick my legs are.
By nature, the career I have pursued is competitive – the way we get work, the way we get clients, the designs we create, even within the company it’s about competing against your colleagues. Before that school was all about whose project was better, whose presentation was the best, who will become an architect first. I am always afraid that I am not good enough, and not doing enough to be noticed.
When I competed in riding, whether it be jumping, gymkhana, or dressage it was always against others. I wanted the ribbon, I wanted to win, I wanted to be better than everyone else. It gave me such anxiety that quite frankly I never really performed that well. My anxiety and nervousness caused my horse to be nervous, and tests we had done great millions of times in training, were horrendous. At the end of the weekend I would be relieved that it was over. But also seriously disappointed that I let fear rule my riding.
We all want to be good at the things we push ourselves to be good at. We want to be the best, and be recognized for being the best – because it was hard work and without recognition or reward it feels futile. But the truth is, no one cares. It’s not about everyone else in the class. It’s not a race. It’s not about winning or losing.
Yesterday I did something I’ve never been able to do before – I actually got my feet off the ground in crow pose. Crow pose is the yoga move where you plant your hands on the ground, you bring your knees up onto your elbows and take your feet off the ground – you are essentially using your arm and ab strength to hold yourself up. Now I have been working out more which always helps, but I came to the realization about something last night. Was it that I didn’t have the strength to do the pose before, or was it because I had never really tried hard enough because of my fear of failure and embarrassment? Full stop.
“What if we showed up to work every day simply to be better than ourselves? What if the goal was to do better work this week than we did the week before? To make this month better than last month? For no other reason than because we want to leave the organization in a better state than we found it?” (224)
Failure is not something to fear, it’s something to learn from. Embarrassment is only what you make it. It is your reaction to something that gives it power. It is your assessment of yourself against others that creates competition. If you focused on yourself and trying to be better than you were yesterday, then there is no reason to compare yourself to others.
Of course none of this is new news – people have been saying it for years. It just took me reading this book and some reflection to really understand what it means. It will take me some time to break a habit that has formed after many years – but I am glad that I’ve had the chance to figure this out now.