I am at a meeting on internet business models, and a speaker is telling me to decide to “be number one.” He has been successful in an internet business, and he talks about the difference between being excellent and being number one is a matter of tiny difference. The top sprinters at the Olympics are separated by milliseconds. It is a good message but there is something missing.
The problem, the missing element, is “number one compared with whom?” There is a dilemma here. In sports, only one will win the gold medal. So “compared with that blazing sprinter from Jamaica” is the logical answer. But sadly, while that may bring fame, it will not bring deep satisfaction. If your measurement is to compare with other people, your attitude will not support long lasting happiness. As Marty Robbins taught us, there is always someone out there who is a faster gunslinger than you are.
On the other hand, comparing yourself with what you were and what you can be is a far more positive approach. At the same time, compassion and kindness toward others is a key to a fully joyful life; competing and keeping score is not. The joyful abundant life takes joy in everyone’s accomplishments, and the competitive life sees the achievements of others as a threat. Which would you rather be?
If being happy is important to you, chose to compete with yourself and not with other people. Cultivate a response of joy when other people do well. Imagine that we are all part of the same family. I hope that when your brother or sister achieves success with some important goal, that you feel joy and pride. So picture each and every person as being in the same family. Practice joy when you see someone do well. Their triumph is like a triumph by your own brother or sister. You can bask in the glow of their glory.
One way you can do that is to adopt Carol Dweck’s recommended growth mindset. That is, you view the purpose of life as being to grow and develop. When we make mistakes, we can learn from them. When others succeed, it is likely because they have worked hard and achieved mastery. Rather than assume that the rewards in life are limited and win-lose, assume the rewards are unlimited and win-win is a better and more rational position to take.
The opposite, Dweck showed, is the fixed mindset. That means someone who considers themselves as doing well (or, poorly!) because of talent, or because of lack of talent. People with the fixed mindset consider that things they are talented at will come easily, so conversely, hard work is embarrassing, it means that one is not talented.
Generally we are a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets, depending on the condition. For example, an artistic person might assume that for athletics, success is mostly about talent, whereas for success in art, it is mostly about hard work. And the athlete might consider that her success in athletics is nearly all about hard work, and musicians and artists are mostly successful because of talent.
A woman I know believed that her success was all about tenacity, grit and hard work. She has become successful, and can talk convincingly about how that is pretty much all about hard work. Yet, if you ask her to join the company softball team, she begs off, saying she is not talented in sports.
So few of us are absolutely one or the other. At the same time, mindset is not personality. Simply saying, "This test is about intelligence and critical thinking" shifts a person toward the fixed position. Offer the same test, and describe it as "a learning process, that we find helps people master new information" and their mindset shifts quickly toward growth.
The fixed mindset person assumes that there are limited rewards, and someone else’s glory will detract from your own. Since success, in the fixed mindset, is all about talent, then one person’s success means that they have more talent that you do. So the fixed mindset leads people to avoid trying things where they might fail.
If you want to cultivate a feeling of joy when others are successful, I suggest you investigate Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, and shift your own thinking more towards the growth mindset.