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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Hating Competition Held Me Back in My Career (and it Might Be Holding You Back, Too)


I consider myself to be a lot of things. But, overly competitive isn’t one of them.

Of course, I always try to put my all into things and I want to make sure to do a solid job with everything I work on. But, that doesn’t mean I obsess over trampling over everybody else around me in order to earn the top spot. Believe me—I’ve learned that there’s a big difference between doing your best and trying to be the best.

In fact, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to transform into more of a collaborator than a competitor. I’m a firm believer that the world would be a much better place if we all focused on supporting and encouraging one another—rather than throwing other people under the bus to garner more recognition for ourselves.

However, I’ve also learned another important lesson: As nice as that all sounds, things don’t necessarily work this way when it comes to your own career. Let’s face it—careers are competitive. There are plenty of people out there who claw their way to the top of the ladder, with zero regard for the people desperately hanging onto the rungs below them. The working world can be frustratingly cutthroat at times.

Unfortunately, as someone who’s not a born competitor—and can even be a little embarrassingly naïve—that’s a concept I had a tough time grasping when I was just getting started in my career. And, even more unfortunately, it’s something I came to grips with the hard way—admittedly, more than once.

I’ve had a boss take credit for something I worked my butt off on, only to quite literally shut the door in my face when I attempted to speak up. I’ve had someone pose as an aspiring freelancer seeking advice, only so she could undercut my price on a project we were both bidding on. I’ve had a co-worker shift blame for his own mistake onto my plate, in a futile (and, unfortunately, successful) attempt to save face.

See? I wasn’t lying when I told you that it was a difficult lesson that slapped me across my dumbstruck face on numerous occasions. But, as brutal as those experiences were, they illustrated something important about the way I approached the working world as a whole: Whether you’re a born competitor or not, you still need to have a little competitive edge in your career.

Why? Well, to put it simply, everybody else out there is looking out for number one. So, unless you want to be repeatedly stomped all over, you’re going to need to do the same thing—at least to a certain degree.

No, that doesn’t mean you need to be ruthless, aggressive, and condescending toward everybody else around you. And, without a doubt, you always want to be honest, ethical, and respectful.

However, it’s important for you to remember that nobody cares as much about your career and your success as you do. As selfish as it sounds, more often than not, it’s up to you to keep your best interests front and center in order to take the necessary steps to achieve what you want. If you wait for other people to do it for you (or even to give you a loving, supportive push along), you’ll only wind up sorely disappointed. Trust me, I’ve been there.

Regardless of how much competitive drive is required of me, I still absolutely never want to be that cutthroat professional who seems overly aggressive, intimidating, and downright unapproachable. But, you know what? I don’t want to be a doormat who’s easily taken advantage of either.

And, as I found out the hard way, a certain degree of polite competitiveness is the secret to navigating that happy medium in your career. Personally, I’m now much more willing to hold my ground and take charge of my own success.

So, no, I won’t throw you under the bus in order to improve my own competitive standing—but I won’t let you turn around and do that to me either.

Are you a born competitor? Or, did you have to learn the hard way like me? Let me know on Twitter!

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