Competition is a beast. Some love competition, some loathe it. Interviewing for a new job, auditioning for a role, playing a sport, going on the Bachelor – it is all a competition. We size up the other people that we see and try to decide if we have a fighting chance or whether we’ll be the victor. But the truth is that there is only one competition that you really need to pay attention to, and that is the competition with yourself.
When I was younger, just out of college, I got a job as a case manager at a home for the chronically mentally ill. It had 174 beds and, at any given time, 170 or more were filled. Diagnoses ranged from psychotic disorders to depression and I knew most of the residents well. I loved that job. Loved it more than I can explain with words. I understood the residents I worked with, I was happy to be there for them and I learned a great deal in the process. My supervisor at the time was one of six senior staff that fell just below the administrator of the facility. There were six floors and just enough staff to cover each one.
After about nine months at this facility, I started to get antsy. I would have loved to work with the residents there every single day for the rest of my life, but I began to be uncomfortable with the personalities and politics within the staff, so I began looking for another job. Soon after, the Admissions Coordinator of this facility announced that she would be moving to a higher position within the company (outside of our facility) and there would be a job opening. I applied to be the Admissions Coordinator and waited. I had discussions with myself about how much they might offer me (and the absolute bare minimum that I needed to pay my bills), what the vacation time would be like, what my responsibilities would be and hoped beyond hope that I would get the job just so that I could continue to work with these residents. That said, I was prepared for a conversation.
On my 24th birthday (a complete coincidence), I was offered the position of Admissions Coordinator. I gladly accepted and sat down to hear about what came with this job. The administrator of my facility informed me of my pay (significantly lower than I’d hoped), vacation (average) and responsibilities (a great many that I was excited about). And I never said a word. I didn’t try to negotiate, I didn’t answer that awful, nagging feeling in my gut, I just listened and nodded. And I took the job. I thanked him and walked out of his office, knowing that I was thrilled with the opportunity, but disappointed in myself. Why had I not spoken up? Why did I allow this nice businessman – who had an agenda to low-ball me so that he could have free flowing money elsewhere (as was his job, so no criticism!) – to intimidate me? I had practiced this conversation many, many times, so what happened?
Perplexed but not discouraged, I started my job in admissions and learned all there was to learn during my training. Once I was left on my own, I spent a lot of time driving to hospitals to interview patients for possible placement, went to visit any of our residents in the hospital, and consulted with our nursing staff at my facility. During one of the first consultations with nursing, the head nurse left the room and I was alone with the assistant head nurse. She turned to me, congratulated me on my new position and asked what I was going to do next. I was confused. I didn’t think I’d heard her correctly and explained that I just got this job and was going to perform to the best of my abilities. She responded by telling me that was great, but what was I planning to do next? This was truly a question I couldn’t conceive of at the time. Next? I just got here. I wanted to love here for a little while! I don’t remember how that conversation ended, but I know that it has stuck with me ever since. This question – asked by someone older and much wiser than me – has made a huge impact on my life.
Many of us approach life as something to conquer, something to enjoy, something to get through – it just depends on the day. When I didn’t make a counter offer for the job as Admissions Coordinator, it was because I didn’t understand that the competition was with myself – I thought it was with my boss. When I walked into the nursing office to perform my job and was asked what came next, I thought that I had already won the competition – to get the job. I didn’t realize that the real competition was ongoing – day to day – with me. Those two instances in my life helped shape me and I hope you can relate them to something that you’ve experienced in your life. The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday. That is the best that we can do and hopefully you will find that empowering. The real power, the real magic, the real accomplishment is within you and can’t be found by trying to be better than other people. Be your best you, each and every day. And if today you don’t have the energy to be your best you, try for tomorrow. It’s in there, I know it.