How Competitive Are You?

Let me put it right out there for you, I’m a fairly competitive person.  When faced with an opportunity or a challenge, I can become quite quickly wrapped up in the heat of the moment and start pushing pretty hard to get a result.  If I think there’s an achievable target with a high enough reward, there’s something about my personality that just kicks into gear and I start hustling to make it happen.

I realised this today while I was talking with a friend of mine and they put this “friendly wager” proposition to me.  While I want to win because it’s a bit of fun,  the stakes have made it even more exciting.  The whole situation got my competitive juices flowing.

I’ve always been a big believer that competition is an incredibly healthy thing.  Growing up playing sport, I remember people telling us that results didn’t matter as long as we tried our best, played fair and most importantly, had fun.  Even as a kid I knew that was complete and utter BS.

People used to say, “Winning isn’t everything.”  I would always in my own mind tack on stuff to the end of that statement:

Winning isn’t everything, but losing sucks
Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing

I had a whole bunch of those little idioms that I’d say to myself.  I wasn’t a bad loser or anything either, I was respectful in defeat, but it didn’t sit lightly on my shoulders.  I would think about why I lost and if it was because someone was better than me, then I went out and worked harder to get better.

Playing baseball growing up, I was pretty good and always played against kids who were a year older.  I still made all-star teams and won awards even against these older kids.  One season I was asked to play up against kids two years older and so I did.

I was 12 that year and the first part of that season was really rough.  My hitting was ok – growing up playing a ton of wallball all summer at our local school playground against guys sometimes five or ten years older than I was, I was used to hitting pitchers with higher velocity and more options than kids nearer my own age.  In simple terms, there probably wasn’t a 14-year-old kid who could pitch anywhere near what I was used to facing.

When I was pitching though, it was a real struggle for the opposite reason.  As a 12-year-old, I just didn’t have the velocity to overpower kids a couple years older than me.  I wasn’t used to kids hitting my pitches that well and that hard.  I wasn’t having much joy.

I remember sitting at home one night and listening to the Toronto Blue Jays game on the radio with my dad.  I vividly recall Jimmy Key was pitching for Toronto and like me, he was a southpaw.  Key didn’t have overpowering stuff but he had exceptional control, a unique delivery and he was deceptive.  The Jays Hall of Fame radio announcer, Tom Cheek said something that night that resonated with me, “Key doesn’t overpower you at the plate, he makes you miss.”

And that was the secret, a lightbulb went off in my 12-year-old brain.  I couldn’t throw harder and faster, but I could pitch more deceptively.  I was a big baseball fan and the New York Mets had this young pitcher, Doc Gooden, who in 1985 put up one of the most dominating seasons ever recorded by a pitcher in the history of the game.  Gooden had a good fastball, but he complemented it with this nasty sweeping curveball.

I decided to learn to throw Gooden’s sweeping curve.  I spent hours and hours working on the grip, the wrist motion and everything about it.  I recorded a Mets game on our VCR and just watched him throw his curveball over and over again; watch, stop, rewind, watch… Within a week, I had a working version of his sweeping curve I could use in a game.

Next game up, the first batter I faced I threw two fastballs for strikes and then unleashed this curveball.  This kid nearly corkscrewed himself into the ground as he swung and missed – he had no idea.  That day I learned that 14-year-old boys could hit a 12-year-old boy’s fastball, but 14-year-old boys couldn’t hit a curveball.

Over the course of that summer, I learned other types of breaking balls.  I next learned how to turn the wrist a bit more and switch my sweeping curve into a 12-6 (think numbers on a clock, top and bottom).  Then I learned to throw my sweeping curve a bit harder and turned it into a more true slider.  On and on it went, every week I learned a new pitch.

By the end of that summer, I was unhittable.  I literally went three games at the end of that season where the other team didn’t even get a hit off me.

It wasn’t about talent and not even so much about hard work, it was all about wanting to win.  Sure, I wanted to be better, but giving up hits and runs in baseball is toxic if you’re a pitcher, so it was really all about winning for me.

Life’s not fair and results matter.  Working hard and putting in a good effort is important because consistently doing that leads to better results.  If I suck at something, I don’t take solace in the fact that I tried my best, I figure out how I can work harder to get better so that when I put forward the effort next time I get an outcome that I can be happy about.

And all of those feelings cropped up today when my friend challenged me.  I don’t really know much about their business, but I understand how to generate leads and sell stuff, so it’s all about me figuring out how to take what I know and apply it to their business model and that market.  I want to get the result, but more importantly, I want to win.

It’s become a bit cliche, but it is true in some respects, our society now plays down the importance of winning in school for our kids.  Everybody gets a participation ribbon and sometimes competition is removed so nobody gets their feelings hurt.

That’s not real.  The world doesn’t stop because your feelz might be a bit damaged if somebody beats you at something.  You need to want to win, succeed and constantly improve.

In business, that’s even more important especially when you’re just starting.  The world doesn’t owe you anything and it won’t necessarily be kind to you.  You need to develop a love of winning.  How you keep score is up to you; for some people it’s money and for others it is more esoteric, but having goals and trying to win and exceed them is going to be a key ingredient if you truly want to be successful.

Now excuse me, I have a challenge to complete.

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