No matter what you’re trying to accomplish, with thousands of other people trying to do the same thing, it surely helps to be driven. After all, most of the greatest entrepreneurs, politicians, scientists, and artists were perpetually striving to beat their personal best or challenge the status quo. Yet being driven to succeed should not be confused with the kind of competitive ambition that can consume you. So, do you need to be competitive with others, and what is the essential difference between “being the best” and “doing your best”?
Let’s start by finding out where you are on the spectrum of ambition. Are you someone with a driving need to:
- Win arguments
- Exceed other people’s standards and expectations
- Out-perform others
- Innovate for the sake of being ahead
- Be the best
- Beat your own personal bests
- Push yourself to master new skills
- Do the very best at what you do
- Rely on your own drive to be better
If you answered mostly A, you’re more competitive with others, put yourself first and are therefore less suited to collaboration. You’re in the zone of being the best. Because you’re often distracted by who’s in front and who’s behind and because let’s face it, it’s hard to know whether you ever really are “the best,” it’s likely you feel disappointed and stressed out.
Whenever my competitiveness surfaces, I feel tense and anxious in the pit of my stomach. My heart beat accelerates and my breathing becomes faster and shallower.
If you answered mostly B, your ambition is of the kind favored by corporations. You may be driven, but you’re still able to collaborate usefuly. You’re more about doing your best. Because, instead of competing with other people you are setting your own benchmarks for success, it’s likely that you feel more relaxed and in control.
When I’m simply doing my best, I feel excited rather than anxious. There is no tension in my body and I feel present and at ease. My heartbeat and breathing are normal, because I’m not in a race.
Here are six questions to help you with the distinction of doing your best:
Do you Accept Your Own Ambition?
You may judge all ambition in yourself and others as being ugly. However, if you find yourself feeling irritated or even jealous when other people display signs of being driven, this could be a signal that you haven’t yet accepted your own ambitious streak.
Are you choosing what you want to be driven towards?
It’s tiring to have ambitions in every arena. Pick what you care about most and focus on that.
Do you compete with others all the time or only when it serves you?
Comparing yourself with others can support you to distinguish your skills and the unique value you can add. But, your biggest competitor should always be yourself.
Have you got enough ambitious people around you?
Befriending and learning from role models and mentors who are smarter and more successful than you will help expand your sense of possibility. Even if you aren’t competing with them, their energy will rub off on you. Talk with and learn from people different from you. Be open to dialogue with acquaintances and even select strangers, as you may uncover interesting opportunities.”
Are you willing to take risks?
Ambition takes a willingness to step into fear and anxiety. Some people are better able to tolerate this fear, perhaps because they are more courageous, committed, or driven, and can minimize the fear. Ambitious people act with purpose, but allow themselves room to explore, experiment and discover.
Whenever you’re next in doubt about whether you’re being competitive or ambitious, ask yourself this: “Am I really trying to do my best or is this about my need to be the best?” Chances are, you’ll be able to tell which state you’re in just by how you feel in your body.