I have always strived to be the best that I can be in what I do, whether I am swimming, studying, or speaking. To be one's best, you have to be true to yourself, honest about your strengths and weaknesses, and acknowledge that YOUR best may not necessarily mean coming first, getting that job, or gaining respect from others. Being your best is quite literally being your best, for you and you alone. But how do you know you are being the best you can be?
When I was a swimmer I used to always race against my own time in training - you know? I would race the clock, always keeping an eye on the big round thing on the wall with it's long black and red arm winding endlessly round and round. Each training set would be a challenge, as I plowed up and down the pool I would develop a mantra in my head, "left, right, left, right, kick, swim fast, left, right, left, right, kick, swim faster." But . . . and this is a big BUT!!! This alone could never get me at my best. You see, I had the motivation to race the clock, but when it came to being in a race, or training in a huge group, I could never rely on just the clock to help me be the best that I could be in that moment . . . . da, da, dummmmmm - this is where a little healthy competition comes into the equation.
Competition can be healthy - it's the attitude you take into the competition that can make it a good thing or turn it toxic. So how do you use competition in a healthy way?
1. Assessment: Competition allows you to assess your progress against that of others further ahead on the road of sport/business/school. It enables you to clearly see your strengths and weaknesses and gives you the opportunity to see what you can be doing different, i.e., what are others doing that is working better and how can you utilise this new information/technique/approach?
2. Challenge: Competition provides you with external challenges that are more about improving you own performance as opposed to "beating other people." When someone else sets a standard that you wish to achieve, don't get down about it - get UP, get MOVING, use their success to motivate yourself to greater heights.
3. Honesty: Yep, honesty, or rather, being honest with yourself. Competition can be healthy in the sense that it demands you to be honest with your own abilities and talents. For example, I am never going to be a great singer . . . I could go on X-factor, deluded that I will do well, but I know, when I sing against people that are truly talented, I am going to sound like a duck quacking under water (or something like that). Singing is not a talent of mine or an ability and hearing myself next to, say, Adele, proves this. So, am I going to be a singer? Nope; I have other talents and abilities that I know I am good at and I am going to focus on those.
4. Drive: I had drive in the pool and at university - drive fueled by my desire to be my best, supported by my body and mind, and working with (or "driving through traffic of") other people. In the pool it was the other competitors who were also exhibiting drive, at uni it was my fellow scholars who were exhibiting drive, and we were all "driving" each other to be better, faster, more knowledgeable - whether thrashing it out in water, or endless edits of essays. Drive is an internal passion made manifest . . . but without others to "drive" with, it will wilt, fade, and eventually cease to exist.
Competition can be healthy; make it healthy, sustain it in a positive, clear, and directional light and you will find that it is a magnificent aid to being YOUR best. Just be aware of any negative habits that can creep into the competitive frame of mind, i.e., comparison, jealousy, etc. AND remember, you can only be as good as you can be, no-one can ask any more of you, but don't be complacent about what your best is. Be YOU in the grand scheme of things, but use the interconnection that we all have access to and embrace the competition that challenges and drives you, without forgetting to assess and be honest with the real you.