You should only compete with one person: yourself

This perspective is what people mean by healthy competition

Herbert Lui


Source: The Mushroom Kingdom

It’s easy to compare yourself against other people especially as they flood our screens with images. But when you compete against other people, you judge yourself based on their values and metrics. The problem with this is even if you win, you only do something that’s important to them, not you.

Life is a competition, but it’s not a race against anyone else. Rather, the real journey is only against yourself and unrealized potential. This is what Jay Z means when he raps, “I look in the mirror, my only opponent.” There’s also the famous adage (often misattributed to Einstein), “If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Jay Z for L’uomo Vogue

Similarly, Kanye West says, “It’s not about the competition. It’s about competing with yourself. That’s why when I play video games, I like playing racing games instead of fighting games. Fighting games are won by beating someone else down. Racing is a matter of figuring out your technique and driving as fast as you can — and that’s how my life has been this year.”

Rather than competing against the next person, you can chase your future self. Matthew McConaughey chases his ideal self, ten years in the future. He says, “Every day, every week, every month, and every year of my life, my hero is always 10 years away. I’m never going to beat my hero. I’m not gonna attain that. I know I’m not! That’s just fine with me, because it keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing.”

The most important part of competing against yourself is the ability to set your own values and metrics. You choose the goals that fit you best, and what you really want to compete on — and what you don’t.

And, yeah, sometimes you lose. You might do worse than you did before. Some days, it’s just enough not to take a step backward. And others, when you least expect it, you bound forward.

Either way, when you compete with yourself, you won’t be lured into other people’s competition and their values. Move forward but only evaluate yourself based on meaningful things. Smile, nod, and then forget it when other people try to entice you into competing. Only you can decide what really matters to you.

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Herbert Lui

Covering the psychology of creative work for content creators, professionals, hobbyists, and independents. Author of Creative Doing: