Few things are an unmixed blessing.I’m a hyper-competitive person. That has helped me in many ways my whole life but it’s also cost me in ways I am just now coming to realize. I have beaten a lot of people who had superior technical skills because I trained harder and was willing to put up with more pain both in practice and in a match.
After seeing a demonstration at a clinic of a technique that the coach said,
“This will be so painful, your opponent will turn over to avoid it,”
I went up to him and said,
“I’m sure that will work with a lot of people. For me, and for the people who really want to win, they won’t move to a position that’s a disadvantage for them. They’ll endure it and make you pay for it later. Those are the people you really need to figure out a way to beat.”
Being hyper-competitive has helped me in business, too.I learned from sports that you don’t win long-term by cheating but rather by working harder and learning more than the competition. I’ve applied that to my career as well. That’s one reason I have four degrees. I always find time to learn new programming languages, new technologies, read up on the latest marketing trends, even if it’s only a few hours a week. I put in my hours on the job, travel more miles than our competition. My former teammates from judo know this because I only see them every year or so.
What could possibly be wrong with being hyper-competitive?It took me a long time to learn this - if you are hyper-competitive, you look at almost everyone and everything through the lens of "Will this help me win or not?"
I have far fewer friends in judo than most people who have been in the sport for almost 50 years. Whether it was for a spot on a team or as a member of a board promoting policies that I really believed would help grow the sport, I looked at most people as competitors or “team mates”. Competitors keep you from winning and team mates help you win. I never had a single friend who was in my division. There was one gold medal and I wanted it.
Now, there is nothing wrong with looking at a person as someone who helps you win, since it can go both ways. It’s the same as looking at someone as a customer. I get their money but they get software that helps them or their children learn and do better in school. They don’t have to fight about doing homework to learn fractions. The same with a team mate. I get a good work out, the other person gets a good work out and we both leave the gym better.
The point I missed is that I ONLY looked at most people as helping me win or keeping me from winning. If I met someone who knew a lot about teaching counters or organizing a tournament I tried to learn everything possible that would help me win. To be fair, I would make sure they got paid or show up at their next event or whatever I could do to pay them back. Hyper-competitive doesn’t mean you have to be a selfish jerk.
What I realized, sometimes years later, was that a lot of those people had qualities and life histories that were far more fascinating than just judo or business. Some of them had careers in special forces in the military (hello, Roy Hash) or had been doing stunts for decades (Gene Lebell) or where working in civil rights law (Karen Mackey).
I think it might be necessary when you are competing to only focus on winning if you really want to be number one. Some people are there for the experience and that is fine, but that was not me.
That line about “In the Olympics, the important thing is not to win but taking part”
I never believed that for a minute.
Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed almost every minute of judo practice. I even liked the cross-training in running and weightlifting - except sprints. I hated sprints and I hated getting up in the morning to run them twice as much because morning was involved. Still, the important thing to me was winning.
When I was done competing, I had put so many other things on hold, I just switched from competing in judo to competing in my doctoral program, in my career.
If I hadn’t been so busy trying to be the smartest person in the room with the most degrees, most publications and highest salary, I probably would have made more friends in graduate school and early in my career, too.
Gradually, eventually, I learned that not everything was a competition. This may seem like I am a slow learner but I am writing this because I know plenty of people who are still competing every minute and need to hear this. They’re trying to be the one with the most money, most awards and frankly, it’s just silly.
You can have friends who are not fans or potential customers. They can just be interesting people who know things you don’t or who make you laugh until you fall out of your chair or who help the community in ways you admire .
People can be customers or colleagues and still have interesting lives outside of your business.
I still work really hard. Recently, I’d been working so much that I forgot not what day or month it was but what season it was. I was driving through North Dakota and I thought, “That corn is really high for this time of year.”
That’s when I realized that it was not late spring but early summer.
Going from a world championship run to a Ph.D. and starting businesses is kind a logical progression because if you don't know, academia is SUPER-competitive, especially the kind of grant-funded work I do. Getting investor funds is a real marathon.
Here is something I learned, as my grandmother would say, "más tarde que nunca" or "better late than never".
Competition can be an important thing in your life without being the ONLY thing
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