The Ghost Of Me
“I’m never gonna be my hero. I’m not gonna attain that. I know I’m not, and that’s just fine with me because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing.” -Matthew Mcconaughey
I’ve recently become obsessed with racing.
It started from a fortuitous night last year where I found myself at a restaurant near the beach, watching the final race of the 2021 F1 season, screaming with the entire crowd as Hamilton and Verstappen entered their final lap. Afterward, I started reading more about racing and watching more races. It became an obsession (whether it’s temporary is to be decided later).
So when I came to my friend’s house and he had - by some lucky chance - just come into the possession of a sim racing wheel, I couldn’t stop myself from giving the wheel a go. We booted up Gran Turismo, and put our driving skills to the test.
I’m not great at video games. Racing games were no different. But it was fun to imagine myself behind the wheel of a Formula car, weaving in and out of the competition like a thread through fabric, smoothly turning through the tight corners and chicanes.
But what intrigued me the most about the game wasn’t the chance to race against others — it was a feature that I found out completely by accident.
Gran Turismo has a feature where I can race through a track as fast as you can, and try to beat my previous time.
However, my previous time does not only appear as digits on the side of the screen — it manifests as a translucent version of myself racing with you on the track. A past version of me, beating me through every corner and leaving me in the wake of their exhaust if I failed to be better. A ghost of me, egging me on to show that I truly am the best version of myself.
Essentially, the only opponent I had to beat was me.
I’ve always thought of myself as someone competitive. And so when someone recently said to me that I didn’t seem like someone who was particularly competitive, it got me thinking.
I used to competitively debate for over 7 years, spending countless days and nights practicing arguments and rebuttals. I did fairly well, winning some competitions and trophies. I obsessed over being the best, and thinking of ways on how to keep being the best.
Being competitive had been an integral part of my identity for years.
Had I truly lost my competitiveness?
And if I had, was it something necessarily bad?
For me, the thing about being competitive is that it started to be less so about just being competitive in one thing and more about being competitive in everything.
In debate, behind all the trophies and wins, there were many moments I wasn’t proud of. I would compare myself constantly to others, and not allow myself to appreciate anything if it wasn’t the best. Finals didn’t mean anything if you didn’t get the win. I had a quantifiable way to measure myself up against others in the form of individual scores, and the measure of my self-worth was dependent on receiving good scores — or if not good, then at least better than others.
It permeated my life too. I was always keeping score of everything. The range of things I would compare myself on came down to even the most menial things — what grade did I get in comparison to my friends, how many followers did I have in comparison to random internet strangers, how much money I had in comparison to my peers (which didn’t make a lot of sense looking back now considering we were all broke college students).
The competitiveness I had wasn’t at a level that most people would consider healthy. I had to be the best at every single thing, and if I wasn’t the best I would scorn those who were better or, even worse, I wouldn’t try at all.
All this led me to have a deep-seated level of insecurity — a constant belief that I wasn’t enough and I would never be enough in anything and everything. Something I still struggle with today.
I digress. Back to the question of being less competitive.
At the time, the comment stung. It was a comment that threw into question a core part of my identity.
But it was true — and it was a good thing.
Am I less competitive? Yes. And also no.
I think I’m less competitive against others. I’ve slowly unlearned to compare myself on everything. I’ve learned to cheer for others, and be genuinely happy for others’ wins instead of asking “why wasn’t that me?”.
But I think I’m more competitive where it matters: the competition where the only other contestant is myself.
There’s a Stoicism quote that goes like this:
“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.” — Epictetus
In real competitions, there’s so little you can control. F1 drivers can train their neck and driving skills for hours on end, but on the day of the race, so many things can go wrong. The weather, other drivers driving poorly, an engine failure, a pitstop mishap, the list goes on and on. It’s easy to blame yourself for a bad day, but it’s also easy to blame other external factors that were completely out of your control.
But when you’re competing with yourself, you hold the controls entirely. You get to decide the parameters on how you’ll measure your improvement. You determine the path forward, and how you’ll actually try to beat your past self. You are in control of what you choose to invest your time in, what you work on the most, and how you’ll barrel through your worst moments.
You’re the coach, the referee, the officials, the audience, the cheerleader, and the opponent. No one else will push you down and make you want to give up. No one else will cheer you on through the good or the bad. No one else will be there to talk through each performance and talk about what went wrong.
It’s you. It’s all you. You’re everything, all at once.
It’s lonely. It’s tiring. It’s boring.
But I think, for where I am now in life, it’s the best form of competition I can do.
Sure, it’s less exciting. I’d love to be on a massive stage somewhere holding up a trophy, or sharing an achievement on my social media. But I think that my mental sanity has had enough excitement for now.
The best thing about competing with yourself is that you don’t really have to do spectacular things.
For example, right now I’m just aiming to solve a Rubik’s Cube in under 30 seconds. I’m getting pretty close (31-second solve for the Rubik’s Cube!), and I might achieve the goal pretty soon (fingers crossed).
But there won’t be anyone at the finish line waiting to give me a medal. I don’t really expect anyone to congratulate me for achieving something as minuscule as solving a Rubik’s Cube in half a minute.
And that’s okay. Because after that, there’ll be another goal. Maybe it’s to solve the cube in 25 seconds.
And after that, there’ll be another goal. Maybe it’s to solve the cube blindfolded.
And then another goal. And another goal. And another goal.
The point of competing with yourself isn’t to win. It’s about progress, rather than trying to win something. It’s about having something to chase, rather than catching something.
So I’ll keep chasing the ghost of me. Not the ghost of others, nor the glory of others.
Just me. That’s the only person I have to beat.