Today, a coworker shared an episode of Simon Sinek’s A Bit of Optimism podcast with me titled “A Bit of Everything with Adam Grant“. There was a lot in the episode that’s worth discussing, but the part that hooked me was (paraphrasing) when they talked about the fun or healthy rivalries. It made me wonder, “Do I need a rival?”
I usually lack the attention span for podcasts unless I know the host or I find the subject matter to be very intriguing. And it turns out that this single issue of “rivalry” from this episode fell into the latter for me (I don’t know Simon or Adam, although I’ve heard both of them speak more than once in person), because – when I think about it, there’s a lot of truth in rivalries being valuable.
How Does a (Healthy) Rivalry Benefit You?
Where would Apple be without Microsoft? Oprah without Martha Stewart? Coca-Cola without Pepsi? Serena without Venus? The Lakers without the Celtics? Britney Spears without Christina Aguilera?
Hell – Ken without Ryu? The Batman without Joker? He-Man without Skeletor? Anime is FUELED on rivalries!! 🤓
You get the point.
They all exist in similar breaths because they figured something out: A lot of positive elements can come from having a worthy rival to motivate you.
Off the top of my head, I can think of 5 quick ones…
You have someone to keep you honest. You may have days that you want to slack off or that you feel like cutting corners, but a worthy rival will keep you honest in that regard based on whether or not they’re outperforming you. For example: If a fighter gets in the ring with a figher who is supposed to be their rival and gets their butt handed to them, then they now HONESTLY know that they need to step their game up. The feedback mechanism of a rival just informed their training.
You have a bare minimum standard that you see to maintain. Now that Tesla has come into the market and started really sticking it to traditional car companies, they see that they need to keep certain standards in mind or get left in the dust (figuratively speaking). Tesla is meeting the desires of a large portion of modern car consumers, and other car companies can only ignore that fact at their own peril.
There is a source of external motivation. For the longest time now, large tech companies have been externally motivated to keep their pay at high/competitive levels. That’s not out of the goodness of their heart — it’s because other rival competitors in their industries are paying top dollar for top talent. Seeing that external source of “inspiration” motivates them to pony up (and in turn, many employees and consumers are benefiting — yes, I’m intentionally ignoring the downsides of their work for the sake of this post — we’ll deal with that subject another day).
Your “support” may, at times, come in the form of tough love. Sometimes rivals want to see their competitors succeed because all ships rise, but that doesn’t mean they’re just going to LET them move along. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). For a great example of this, look no further than the competitive years of Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird. The two respected each other’s skills and pushed each other on to perform better time and time again throughout the course of their rivalry.
You aren’t facing your trials alone. I have heard it’s lonely at the top. I don’t know anything about that life, but many people in academia know this struggle all too well. As they progress higher and higher in their fields of study and their peers become fewer and fewer along the road of their education – an unspoken bond forms between those dedicated individuals going through the long fought struggles of completing doctorate programs agains any number of odds. They are doing the work and pursuing their expertise on their own, but they aren’t “alone” by a long shot and are surrounded by rivals for positions in the work they clearly care so much about.
What Exactly do You Mean “Healthy” Rivalry?
Simply put, a healthy rivalry is one where you don’t consider the person or group that you’re looking at as an enemy. You cheer on their successes, but you also keep in mind that you two are competing without trying to destroy each other.
If this were a race, they’re your pacesetter. If this were a fight training camp, they’re your sparring partner.
Do you smell me?
You can keep up with the Jones’s so long as you’re actually not envious of them (in a manner of speaking).
Rather than cursing their achievement(s), you would look at this rival as a source of inspiration. You study how they did something and you emulate that. And if you can’t figure it out yourself, you build a healthy enough relationship with them to ask. And once you do ask – you’re open to the idea of learning! (For those who don’t work in Corporate America, you’d be surprised how much rival brands will actually share with each other so long as it’s mutually beneficial).
This isn’t a one-sided thing. Your rival may acknowledge you and view you the same way. And if that does happen, don’t be a stingy bastard. Share with your rival because the better that they do, the better YOU do in the end.
I hope that makes sense.
But what About Only Competing with Myself?
I can’t knock people who only try to do a little better than they did the day before with each passing day. They’re their own competition and only try to face off against the person in the mirror.
I understand that because it’s how I operate (by default).
Do better – each day.
But, by doing that – you’re removing something beautiful from the equation… Alternatives.
“Your Way” may literally not be the best way. Your rival may figure out a better way that you can learn from and reverse engineer. And while it may take you a year to get there on your own without looking externally – your rival may have figured that out 8 months ago and you would’ve known that had you only paid attention.
I am just saying that there are legitimate benefits to having an external North Star to help you stay on track.
When we go out on our own. TRULY on our own. Many people (not all) lack the focus it takes to stay on the path toward their goal. And while they may eventually find their success, the path they took there was full of falling off the saddle and hopping back on because they fell to distraction after distraction.
You hear about a lot of us competing with ourselves each day, but nowhere near as many pushing through to their ultimate potential. My guess – and this is just saying that this is a contributing factor, not that this is THE cause – is that those people didn’t have a rival to look at in a healthy way and use as a pacesetter and peer.
And with that, I’ll end my thoughts on healthy rivalries. I think I’ve convinced myself to seek one out. They may not KNOW that I see them as a rival — but I’ll be looking (hahaha).
Do you have a rivalry that’s benefited you? If so, share a story about how. Also, if you think this is ridiculous, please tell me why. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comment Section below!