Let me first start by saying I experience this urge almost every day. And I’m willing to bet that you do, too. This is how I knew I needed to share it with you.
It’s an urge that’s so prevalent, pertinent, and unmistakable that, when you read it, you’ll have no choice but to accept its realness. It’s an urge that carves out what you know to be true, reconfigures it, and gives it back to you. Just for you to see it an ideal state, every time. It’s intimidating and desirable all at once. And it’s an urge that will shape your life.
Maybe you’re wondering what that urge is. That would be a good question. I’ll answer momentarily, but first, let me share something with you.
Tennis is a sport where two people hit a little yellow ball back ‘n’ forth over a net. They compete for games, sets, and matches. They’ve agreed to certain regulations. The racket has to be a certain size, you can’t take performance-enhancing drugs, and I can go on and on. But I’ll spare you. The point is, there’s a clearly defined set of rules, and both players have agreed on these rules. Therefore both players can compete against each other.
Competition is a good thing when it comes to direct competitions. I mean, you can’t win the tennis tournament without a runner-up. Better stated as you can’t be number 1 without a number 2. Or 3, 4, 5 for that matter. In direct competition, an outcome is necessary. The goal is to win. The goal has been defined. You practice every day to achieve that goal. Sure, there are many things that affect the outcome of any competition, but winning and losing are binary in direct competitions. Two tennis players take the court, and one must win. Seems obvious.
In Zero to One, Peter Thiel argues that competition is for losers. He believes no competition is the best starting point for a business. He wants you to create a monopoly. This might seem shallow or crappy to the average person, but when you truly consider what he’s saying, it makes a lot of sense. Let’s assume I’m the genie and I granted you this wish. You can start whatever business you want. In whatever industry you want. At any time you want. Consider this: Why would you start a business in a field populated with competitors? This is what Thiel is saying. Start a monopoly. Own your category. Pioneer your industry. In business, rules are not clearly defined. Competition is bad.
The most common argument you might hear from someone advocating for competition is that it provides motivation for improvement. This is true, but without having an agreed upon “rule structure,” competition might actually have an adverse effect. In a sense it becomes demotivating. This might be why most people would rather read the meme on Instagram than do the actual work. There are no defined rules on Instagram, yet everyone is competing.
What most people don’t realize is that competition is good for the system. Not necessarily good for you.
Competition is better for the system than it is for you.
Competition is good for “tennis.” Competition is good for “capitalism.” Competition is good for “Instagram.” Competition fuels the system.
There are no defined set of rules in life. Life is completely random. Your life is only your life because you were born wherever you were born. You made friends with whomever you made friends with. You married whomever you married. You work wherever you work because you decided to work there. You’ve been led by whomever has led you. Annie Duke would probably remind us, Life is merely made up of the hand you’re dealt and decisions you make with that hand, plus luck. Whether you’re willing to admit or not, luck is an enormously big factor in how your life plays out. Everyone is dealt a different hand in the game of life. Everyone has different values. Everyone has their own compounded experiences. Everyone is playing by their own rules. The rules they’ve made up in their head.
However, it seems we’ve allowed this notion of direct competition to leak into our lives. Somehow we’re all competing every day. It’s sad, really. Maybe some guru has been leading you with their formula of how to win at life. I’m here to tell you there is no formula. Unless you consider fighting this urge a formula.
Please fight this urge. It will be worth it.
The constant urge to live other people’s lives.
Maybe you’re saying, “No way not me. I don’t feel that way. I love myself.”
Okay, fine. I’ll let you have that for now. But revisit this next time you log on to Facebook just to see what Tom had for dinner last night. As you sit there and consider whether his steak tasted better than your cheeseburger or his vacation more lavish than yours. Remember, you’re experiencing the urge. The urge that rattles my world every day proving its existence. That’s how I know it rattles yours.
Technology has only scaled this urge’s impact. We are competing with everyone, every day. This urge happens unconsciously and consistently. The urge even happens on a more innocent level. You know, when see your friend playing the guitar, and now you want to play the guitar.
I’m not saying don’t play the guitar. I’m saying to be aware of that urge. The urge to live another person’s life.
The world needs you. You lose yourself each time you try to be someone else. You try to live by someone else’s rules. You try to compete in their game. The world needs you the way you are.
The world just needs you to be better at being you. The only person you should be competing with is yourself.
I’m not encouraging you to not grow, never change, or never try new things. I actually have a pretty practical way I do that called The Hope Model. I’m encouraging you to never lose yourself. I’m encouraging you to hone your skills and get better at being you. I’m encouraging you to remember life is not made up of winners and losers. There is no clear set of rules for how we should play this game. You create the rules.
In life, competition is for losers. It shouldn’t be too hard to take Thiel’s advice when it comes to our own lives.
After all, there’s only one of you.