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Racing Alone: The Value of Personal Competition

Updated: Jan 6

Many of my childhood memories involve some kind of competition with my older brother. From soccer in the backyard, to swimming races in the pool, to intense board game battles, everything we did seemed to be turned into some kind of contest. Initially, this instilled in me a belief that life was one big competition with others. But once I was in college, I realized the truth in the saying, “Don’t measure yourself with someone else’s ruler.” I’ve learned that the most significant competition is the one you have with yourself.


The Allure and Pitfalls of Multiplayer Competitions

Multiplayer competitions are embedded in our culture – from sports fields to corporate ladders – and they are often seen as benchmarks of success. These experiences teach us important skills like teamwork and resilience. In my childhood, team sports like soccer and basketball taught me lessons about skill development, collaboration, belonging, and fun. In addition, learning to lose helped me develop mental and emotional resilience.


Yet, multiplayer games, while socially celebrated, can lead to a constant chase for external validation. For instance, athletes taking on a win-at-all-cost mentality, students obsessively comparing grades, or professionals fixating on out-earning others. External competitions can lead to an endless pursuit of more — a bigger house, a more luxurious car, a more prestigious job title, or a larger bank account. I’m not placing a value judgment on external validation, but I simply want to point out that the multiplayer race has no finish line, and there will always be someone who has more.


The Power of Single-Player Games

As I’ve stepped away from measuring my worth against others, I’ve discovered the benefits of the single-player game. This shift means setting personal goals based on your individual abilities and aspirations, focusing on your personal satisfaction, and striving to be just a bit better than you were yesterday.


While I was an undergraduate student, I realized there were always going to be smarter peers in my classes, so instead of competing with them, I decided to focus on learning what I wanted to learn. The mental image I adopted was that of a race horse wearing blinders. These cup-shaped devices help horses maintain focus on the path ahead, preventing them from being distracted by other horses. Similarly, focusing on our path allows each of us to define success on our own terms, be it learning a new skill, improving personal health, or achieving inner peace.


The single-player race has a different finish line for everyone competing.



Lessons Learned from Shifting Focus

My experiences taught me valuable lessons about the nature of competition. I’ve learned that while competing with others has its place, it is often overshadowed by the limitations of external validation. In contrast, a focus on internal validation leads to self-reliance, intrinsic motivation, and emotional resilience.

  • Self-Reliance: Relying on oneself for approval and satisfaction fosters a sense of independence, where self-worth is not contingent upon others’ opinions or recognition. This lesson is crucial for developing a strong sense of self and the ability to make decisions based on personal values and beliefs, rather than being swayed by external influences.

  • Intrinsic Motivation: Doing something for its own sake helps in recognizing and pursuing personal goals, passions, and interests. When actions are driven by intrinsic motivations, they lead to more fulfilling experiences and lifelong learning.

  • Emotional Resilience: Understanding and accepting your emotions, strengths, and weaknesses, leads to better emotional regulation and well-being. Self-acceptance and self-compassion are key to coping with challenges, failures, and criticisms.


Shifting to a single-player game will help you realize that true success comes from surpassing your previous self, not others.


By embracing the idea of not measuring yourself with someone else’s ruler, you can redefine what success means to you. It's not about having more than others but about personal improvement. In single-player competitions, we set our benchmarks, tailoring them to our unique strengths and aspirations. This approach fosters a healthier, more sustainable form of success, grounded in personal fulfillment.


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My journey from a childhood filled with sibling rivalry to understanding the value of personal competition has taught me that the most rewarding challenges are those we set for ourselves. This shift from external to internal competition has led to a deeper sense of achievement and a more authentic path to personal growth.


Reflect on your life and consider where you might be using someone else’s ruler to measure your success. How could focusing on personal goals change your perspective?



This post was inspired by Shane Parrish’s The Knowledge Project interview with Naval Ravikant.



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