Competitive sports can teach us a great deal about the qualities necessary for success.
Anyone who has ever played a sport has definitely had at least one coach who stated, "It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game."
This is another way of saying that trying your best and playing by the rules are more important than the ultimate outcome. There is certainly some truth to this, but let's be honest, losing is both infuriating and demoralizing.
As a child, whenever I had a coach tell me "having fun" was the most important aspect of sports, I'd think to myself, "I'm not going to have any fun at all if we lose."
In retrospect, this was a very immature and narrow philosophy. In a sense, losing is a form of failure, which is why it hurts so much. Yet, if we approach it with the right mindset, failure is also extremely valuable.
In other words, failure is what pushes us to get better. It's what fuels the competitive spirit within us, and it helps us establish realistic goals for the future.
If we lose to the number one-ranked team at the beginning of the season, at least we know how hard we have work to defeat that team later on. Perspective is everything.
Simply put, we are not molded through victory, but strengthened and enlightened with each and every defeat.
It's easy to want to quit after failing to achieve a desired objective. The most successful people in the world got to where they are, however, because their failures inspired them to be even more competitive.
Winning, in the truest sense, is accomplished by constantly setting new goals and working tirelessly to achieve them.
It's not whether you win or lose, it's whether you outwork everyone else.
Have you ever watched a sporting event at which one team clearly outmatched the other, but the weaker team had that one player who stood out more than anyone else? This individual's team could be losing by a landslide, but he or she refuses to give up.
It's difficult not to respect individuals like this, as they're working harder than everyone else. They epitomize what it means to be competitive.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is a prime example of why outworking everyone else and having a competitive spirit leads to success.
He has worked tirelessly to revolutionize the efficiency and sustainability of the way we travel by offering a safer and less discriminatory alternative to taxis.
He's so ridiculously competitive that in his spare time he's even become one of the best Wii Tennis players on the planet. Kalanick is the type of individual who can't stand to be second-best at anything.
As Chris Sacca of Fortune puts it:
[Kalanick] doesn't sleep. He doesn't lose focus. He will even forget to eat. He executes again and again, inspiring those around him to have the same passion for the end game as he does. So, if... he wants to provide a cleaner, safer, easier experience than the current taxi system, he will make that work... If Travis wants to build a company that offers, as Uber's mission statement reads, 'Transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere for everyone,' he will make that happen.
If we hope to be successful in life, we all need to embody the spirit and drive of that stand-out player, just like Kalanick. There is no shame in losing as long as we give everything we've got in the process.
After all, there is no such thing as an irreversible failure, and we all have the capacity to redeem ourselves.
With that said, we also have to be pragmatic when pursuing our goals. Being competitive doesn't mean you need to sacrifice your wellbeing in the process. Correspondingly, as Jason Selk puts it for Forbes:
Success and greatness take work. There is no mistaking that fact, and high levels of success require you to outwork your competition. BUT, success is also going to require that you work in a way to maintain a balanced life. Failure to maintain this balance will result in burnout and will become a roadblock to success.
In the end, we get ahead by exhibiting a greater desire to win than anyone else. It doesn't matter if our team ends up losing in the short-term, as getting noticed is half the battle in the grand scheme of things. This is true in all walks of life, particularly when it comes to our careers.
At the same time, we all need to recognize there is a distinct difference between working hard and overworking. Even the most competitive and victorious athletes listen to their bodies and rest when it's necessary.
Whatever your profession, remember that quality over quantity is a sound approach in terms of establishing a healthy work-life balance.
You are your greatest adversary.
People often equate competitiveness to ruthless self-interest. They perceive it as the antithesis of cooperation, which is also important in terms of fostering progress and success. This is quite an absolute perspective and isn't necessarily the case.
We all need to be practical about the fact that getting ahead often means outworking other people, but that doesn't mean we need to deliberately hurt them in the process.
Moreover, the greatest obstacle to success is not other people, but ourselves.
Throughout history, many of the world's greatest philosophers have emphasized the importance of conquering yourself. Self-doubt, insecurity and egoism are the biggest impediments to greatness.
Indeed, conquering your inner demons is the first step on the road to success. As Plato once stated:
The first and greatest victory is to conquer yourself; to be conquered by yourself is of all things most shameful and vile.
In other words, don't become discouraged by bumps in the road, they're inevitable. Be ruthless with yourself when it comes to self-improvement, and you'll find you're constantly setting yourself apart from the competition.
Don't give in to fear or anxiety, and embrace the endless possibilities of the future.
To put it another way, the greatest athletes in the world all have very short memories. They're not dwelling on the last mistake they made in the game, but working harder than everyone else to make the next big play.
If we hope to be successful in life, we have to believe in our capacity to change the game completely for the better.