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Sean Hastings

Sean is the owner of Revolution Fitness. He has a degree in Biology/Environmental Health from Illinois State University and is a CrossFit L2, Spartan SGX, DekaFit, and RAMFit Coach. He also has an MBA from the University of Illinois and assists corporations with interim talent and consulting solutions. He resides in the Chicago suburbs and has two sons.

Competing Against Others And Yourself – You Are Wired for This, For Better or Worse

Ah, the CrossFit Open is soon upon us, the first Spartan Race US National Series race took place this past weekend, and 2021’s personal, career, and sales goals are still within reach (remember those goals from January? Yikes!)! 

It is in our DNA to compete with others.  That’s how we have evolved, in a very pure sense, and it is what makes us who we are today.  This is a great thing, and very practical in today’s world – for example, when trail running with a friend it is better to go faster than that friend so that if you come across a bear or mountain lion you can get away, live, procreate, etc… At my age I’m done procreating but you get my point – survival of the fittest.

Competition with others is great.  It can be an extremely positive motivating force and can be the reason you increase your fitness, pay attention to your nutrition, and be healthy.  It can be the reason you get out of bed early to train, put in extra miles on the bike, do those extra situps, and not have that extra drink or bowl of ice cream before going to bed.  In our careers, it can be the reason you get into work early, make the extra effort with a colleague, or make those extra sales calls before going home so that you can beat out the competition.

But competing with others also has a dark side.  It can make us nuts, fill us with anxiety, and wear on us emotionally.  With exercise, this can cause injury or entice people to do things they should not in order for short-term gains potentially forsaking the future (for example lifting too heavy, not scaling appropriately, cheating, etc).  With careers, this can take the form of competing with colleagues and competitors to the point where work hours are long, we stop being collaborative, stress is high, and family relationships are put on hold.  In both personal and career perhaps the worst thing competition with others can do is drive people to “cheat” themselves and “win at any cost”.

We can also compete against ourselves, and sometimes this can be healthier.  Competing with yourself can diminish the need to cheat in order to win, perhaps because it is more clear that you are cheating yourself.  Theodore Roosevelt said, “What you can, with what you’ve got, where you are”.  Great advice, but hard to remember at times.  Competing with yourself can also become obsessive and disastrous, as we certainly can be our own worst enemy if we fail to meet our expectations. 

The trick, whether you are competing with yourself or others, is to recognize when you are taking it too far.  Some ways to tell if you are perhaps taking it too far include:

  1. You are injured often
  2. You are having difficulty sleeping
  3. You have difficulty turning work or exercise “off”
  4. You go outside of your company’s process to close a deal
  5. You constantly critique yourself about why you lost a deal to a competitor
  6. You are frustrated more than usual when you think about competition
  7. You find yourself cheating

So what can you do? 

For one, realize that while you can control your work ethic, there are a lot of factors that play into competition and how well we perform, and a lot that you cannot control.  With competing in sport, we all have strong days and weak days, and sometimes those weak days come at the wrong time and we do not perform as well as we could.  With your career, you may lose deals or get passed over for promotion for a variety of factors completely outside of your control (pre-existing relationships, bias, politics). 

When you do not live up to your competition expectations and feel like you have lost to competition, it’s ok to feel bad but more important to quickly reflect and most important to move on.   

So go out there give it your all and compete. Competition is a great way to stay motivated with your exercise and nutrition and a great way to help fuel your work and career. But keep your drive to compete in perspective and do not overdo it. And when you lose to competition, bounce back quickly because, in the words of World’s Tougest Mudder emcee Sean Corvelle: “Your best will make you better” and “No one is better than your best”.  Words to remember in this competitive life we live. 

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