I’ve always been a naturally competitive person. Whether it was playing kickball in the first grade or blogging in my career, I’ve always wanted to be the best. However, like many character traits, being competitive is both a blessing and a curse.
About 10 months ago, as I was really feeling good about my career, I began interacting with a lot more successful people, especially those around my age. But with those exciting introductions and budding professional relationships came a great deal of competition and jealousy on my part. For instance, when a professional contact got funding for her startup out of nowhere, I immediately began fixating on what unfair means she could’ve possibly used to get it and why I hadn’t (instead of just congratulating her and moving on).
I started realizing that my competitive nature was becoming unhealthy: I was focusing way too much on what other people were doing and getting frustrated that I wasn’t reaching the same levels of success. Luckily, this was all going on in my head, so I wasn’t hurting anyone but myself with my constant comparisons, but I was hurting myself pretty badly.
All of this internal strife came to a head when one of my contacts landed a ton of press for her new startup that didn’t even exist yet. I couldn’t believe it! I had been working on my startup for almost two years and hadn’t received nearly that much press. It wasn’t fair!
About a week after this, I was talking to her about it, when she casually mentioned that she’d gotten all of it by cold-pitching very specific journalists who specialize in new, hot startups. She even sent me the cold pitch email template she’d used.
Suddenly, something clicked: If I was always focused on “beating” someone else, I would be wasting my energy and getting nowhere. But if I could redirect my jealousy and use it to pick up a few pointers, I could get better and better.
In other words, my network isn’t a competition; it’s a classroom.
Before, I used to think, “This person is so much better, and I need to beat him or her.” Now, if I come across someone doing something that I’d like to do, I think, “This person is doing [thing x] really well. I'm going to steal one great tip from him or her and add it to my arsenal of tips and tricks.”
The shift is simple, but I’ve seen huge results.
For example, instead of getting competitive when a close friend started making mega bucks off of a new blogging deal, I asked her about how she went through freelancer negotiations and grabbed some pointers I definitely wouldn’t have thought of myself. I was then able to put them to use when I started writing for a new website a month later. If I’d just sat there feeling like I was “losing” this imaginary battle, I really would have been losing—a lot of opportunity, that is!
In another instance, a journalist I’m acquainted with started gaining impressive professional connections at warp speed. Through some creepy stalking on my part (and finally asking him about it one day when we were talking about professional development), I figured out that he’d joined a particular networking group, met these people at a series of events, and then started interacting with them on Twitter. By paying attention to how he was doing it instead of just being jealous, I was able to steal some tips on how he rocked online networking.
The best part? I’ve found that people are more than happy to share their tips. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Admitting that you’re totally jealous of someone’s success and would love to get some advice can be a great way to get him or her talking.