I was once told by a wise man that there is a very big difference between competing and excelling. And more so, competing is not something we should be too focused on. He explained that being competitive could actually be destroying our ability to become creative and innovative, which are the essentials for greatness in our modern world. Quite odd I thought, as all my life I was taught that competing against others was necessary and quite admirable. I mean think of your own life, have you ever found yourself wanting to or at least trying to beat another person for something? A job, a race, or the last item in a sale? So what is all the fuss about you may ask? Well let’s look at the definitions of competing and excelling. Competing is to run in the same race, but to also beat others or tear them down. Excelling is to reach beyond, and to stand out from the crowd, to run your own race. Is it starting to make sense?

You see, competing by running in the same race, means doing the same things over and over, and aiming to be first all the time. If that was the only goal, there would be no innovation. Think of an athlete. If all they wanted to do was beat the person next to them, it would boil down to a boring contest of constant rivalry characterised by defensiveness and blockage. What really goes through the mind of a true athlete is to become great, to excel and be known as someone who made a mark. How do they do this? By breaking records, or introducing innovative methods in their play, that’s how.

Ultimately competitiveness can lead to mistrust, especially in a work setting. While it can sound quite compelling to compete against your peers, your boss, and others in the field, it really ends up being a distraction from the potential to be great. Unfortunately, most of our work settings have tried to promote this internal competitiveness. It’s supplemented with what is known as the ‘carrot and stick’ approach to performance.

Simply, it means if you get the result you will get rewarded, if you don’t however, you get punished. Sound familiar? The problem is that results alone are no real stimulus for excelling. Some of the most famous coaches in the world talk about focusing on the process and not the result. They believe that if you learn to understand how your own performance can be adapted and changed to become innovative and unique, your successful results will naturally occur.

Now I’m not saying we must be weak and not pursue our goals, it should just not be at the expense of others. This is where the difficulty comes in. In South Africa, jobs appear scarce and everyone is fighting for the last position or the very rare promotion. So it is quite understandable that people would try and knock others out of the race. The irony is that you have a better chance of becoming noticed or recognised for your value when you concentrate on your own uniqueness and talent. So how do you get there? You need to move out of a results only focus and seek what lies beyond that. To dare to dream of what could be achieved that goes beyond your set goals. Maybe it is a world record time for an athlete. Maybe it’s about constantly delivering a performance that people applaud as great, or maybe it’s just about you feeling that you are exercising your unique capabilities at the upper levels of possibility. It’s about everyday asking how you could turn your situation into new opportunities, or learning. Excellence does not lie in defending your position. It lies in making a difference to your situation, no matter how small. It can’t be done without belief, without feeling that you are capable of reaching those upper levels, or extending yourself. So start by asking yourself, do I believe others are out to get me? Do I need to beat others or break them down? Or am I ready to run my own race, and excel beyond my current levels?