We all want to be better, but it can be hard to know what that really means sometimes. Does it mean we want to better ourselves? Or does it mean we want to be better than everyone else?
There is an important distinction between the two. Ambition is the driving force of the first one. We use our ambition to drive us forward to a goal that is entirely set on our own terms.
However, if we focus on the second one, the driving force becomes competitive. To be the best we have to better than everyone else. This forbids collaboration and means playing to a goal which you may not have set.
I’m a competitive soul. I like to win when I can, and I do enjoy pitting my wits against others in a variety of games. While this is healthy to an extent, we all need a bit of competition every now and again, it can have its downsides.
When you are in the competitive zone, you are less focused on yourself and more focused on who you are competing against. You are watching them to see what they are doing. Observing them to see if you can find any weaknesses.
While if you have only focused on improving yourself, you’re only competition is yourself. You can concentrate on areas that need improving instead of worrying about what everyone else is doing.
Doing your best really is all that you can do.
Do Your Best, Don’t Be The Best
Growing up a lot of us have the ambition of being a famous sports star, movie star or singer. I was no different. My dream was to play for my favourite football team, Liverpool F.C.
In the back of my mind, I knew it wouldn’t work, but I was determined to try nonetheless. After a few years of giving it my all and trying to improve my skills, I realised the dream was not achievable.
There was no way I was going to be a professional footballer. I just didn’t have the necessary desire or skill set.
Competition was one of the hardest things in this endeavour. Even though I’m a competitive person, the level of competition was something else. Just getting into my school football team was a tough process, never mind trying to make it to the Academy of a professional team.
I just wasn’t cut out to push myself to the necessary level to make it. While this was disappointing at the time, looking back, it was a good thing I learnt this lesson early on.
Competing against others is enjoyable in certain moments, but to do it on a consistent basis is draining. To be constantly worried about what everyone else is doing is unsustainable.
I have no control over how these people live their lives and what they are doing on a daily basis. Instead, of devoting energy to worrying about what everyone else was doing, that time would be better spent concentrating on myself.
It’s much more useful to be focusing on myself and pushing myself to be better, than pushing myself to be better than everyone else.
As the saying goes, there is always someone out there who is better than you.
The key takeaway to take from this article is not that ambition is bad, but that it should be harnessed in the right way. Personal ambition and naked ambition are two different beasts.
One is about improving yourself to meet the goals you have set, while the other is focused on being the best at the expense of others. While it may feel good to be the best, it’s lonely at the top.
The only thing you can control in this world is yourself. It’s much more beneficial to focus on improving yourself than worrying about what everyone is up to.
They are beyond your control, what they do is of no consequence to you, unless you make it so. In this way, it is better to think of actions rather than outcomes.
You cannot control the outcome, but you can control the action. Instead of thinking about writing a best-selling book, it’s better to think about writing the best book that you can. It’s much easier to control the latter than it is the former.
We need to take care of the inputs and let the outputs take care of themselves. It’s not important or useful to worry about what might happen, or the whole picture, we only need to focus on doing our best at whatever is front of us right now.
When you do this you will find yourself much more peaceful than normal. As Marcus Aurelius stated:
“The tranquillity that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do, only what you do.”
Once you find that tranquillity, you will find you are better able to focus on what is most important, simply doing the best you can each and every day.