Howdy! I rowed all four years in college. It was an amazing time and I can honestly say that so much of my philosophies on life are based on my years as a competitive rower. I learned about myself, what is possible or at least what was possible in the moments that existed then, about others, about stress, joy and love, and about perseverance. I had never done team sports before college so I was new to competing in a structured environment so it took me a few months to get my feet underneath me. When I did finally get a glimmer of the possibility I became the strongest female rower (as far as erg times) on both the varsity and novice teams. I was on top and, because I am competitive, was determined to stay there.
I had a 3.5 years left as a college rower once I reached the top so I had to figure out how to handle the new rowers coming up in order to keep my seat and status as numero uno. I worked out over the summers, I lifted with friends, I did the extra work that I needed to stay strong. I worked on my mental toughness, I tested and sent scores into the US Rowing Team to stay motivated. I also found motivation with the rowers around me. During tests the top ergers would generally sit next to one another for motivation. I would make sure that I was always a few seconds faster than the next fastest rower. It was easy to pace off of someone and to just do enough to stay on top. It worked and I wasn't topped until I was gone.
Most people compare themselves with others around them to see if they are cutting the mustard. We are a competitive society after all. Competition isn't in and of itself and issue, it is how we compete and what meaning we give to the results that end up being problematic. So often I hear people saying that they eat better than the people they know, they work out more, they are smarter than, more helpful, and so on and so on. I hear people in various positions saying that they are the best this or that. You can believe that you are the best, or that you are better or whatever but you always need to be aware of the pool you are comparing yourself against. If you are the fittest person at your job and you live in the United States, chances are that isn't so hard to do. Most Americans are obese (40lbs overweight), so being the healthiest is rather simple. Falling into this line of thinking can be tricky because you stop striving for your best and just look to being the best in comparison to those around you. Your best is then limited by who you are competing against.
Well, I get it, I did it and it wasn't until I graduated and began training on my own that I discovered true competition and true success. When I began training in a single sculling boat I no longer had the team to compare myself to. I was now a small fish in an ocean and the games were just beginning. I realized that all I could ever use as a meter to base my success on was the person I was the day before; use the scores from yesterday, three days ago, last week or last month. I was my competition, I was my motivation. It wasn't until I realized this that I became great. I began to challenge what I thought was possible by digging deeper within myself, by going farther than I had the day before, by understanding that there were no limits, really. When I stopped competing I started winning.
Everyday I try to push myself farther in some way or another. I take praise from others as a sign of love and admiration but I don't let it go to my head, ever. I never believe that I am at the top of my game. If I believed that I would stop working harder, going farther, dreaming bigger. I refuse to stop because I am ahead… I never believe that to be the case anyway. I am always in the middle of the pack, working to see what I couldn't see before, working to be where I never was before.
Instead of comparing yourself to others, ask yourself if you are working hard and doing your best in the moment. Dream BIG. Set your sights on something you think is unattainable and then steadily attain it. Why not? It isn't about anyone else, it is about yourself, your potential, your exploration of who you really are and can be. It isn't about losing or winning it is about stepping outside of the hamster wheel and feeling the real freedom of success. Going beyond what is expected, not letting others' ideas of what can be dictate your life and what you do. Truly live your life to it's fullest regardless of the lives being lived around you.