We all know that healthy competition is a good thing. It can spur us to be more aware of market conditions, be better prepared for presentations, improve our work ethic, sharpen our focus and try new things. At its best, competition inspires us to heights we might never have dreamed of had our competitors never existed. Walt Disney captured this when he said, "I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn't know how to get along without it."
However, it's sometimes easy to slide into unhealthy competitive situations. Rather than just studying what a competitor is doing and gaining ideas to adapt creatively for our own business, we can take a negative tack in several ways. For instance, we can compare ourselves to the competition and feel we are less than they are. When taken to its most extreme, we may conclude we'll never grab even a sliver of market share and stop trying to excel.
We can also become extremely jealous, and instead of using our intellect to improve our own business, we waste time thinking negative thoughts about our competitors and plotting ways to outmaneuver them, even if those actions aren't in our own or our clients' long-term interests.
Another pitfall is when we are the top of our game, and we assess the competitive field, determine no one is anywhere near as good as we are, get lazy and rest on our laurels. This line of thinking leaves an opening for hungry upstarts to come in and wipe us out.
So it's incumbent on all of us to act with awareness and decide what kind of competitor we want to be, and what type of impact we want to make in business and in all other areas of our lives.
It makes sense to be wow'd if a competitor achieves something extraordinary, but we shouldn't stay enthralled for long. We need to get to work. Love what we are doing. Work from where we are right now. Innovate and improve what we can. Be better than we ever have been.
Sometimes, we'll do our best and still suffer losses and defeats. There may even be negative media coverage or rumors of our demise. But in the end, the most important competitor for each of us is our own self.
If we take each quarter and strive to make it better in all the ways that matter most to us than the preceding one, if we compete against the best we've ever been, if we appreciate what we're doing well and take educated risks, we will continually improve. If we find like-minded people who will support us and take leadership along with us, we'll be extraordinary. And if we think about the big picture—what will provide a comfortable living for us, as well as make the very best impact on the world—we'll be on the road toward leaving a meaningful legacy.
In the best sense, healthy competition means healthy living, and maybe even down the road, a healthy planet for our children's children's children.
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