Your Biggest Rival
Do you have a rival?
Or have you ever had one? Someone who everything they touch turns to gold? – I do.
There’s a guy I know who has it all: financial success, a list of incredible books he’s written that have impacted millions of people, booked speaking engagements throughout the whole year at the biggest events, friendships with other thought leaders and creative influencers, successful businesses, has his debts paid off, a lovely home for his beautiful family, thousands of people who read his blog every week and quote the knowledge that he shares regularly, and many many stories of people who have been influenced by him to live out their full potential. He is confident, bold, creative, clever, wise, smart, driven, focused, healthy and fit, respected, and yet still has remained grounded and humble with his priorities in the right place.
This guy has everything I want in life. And the worst part is, I know him super well. As a matter of fact, I see him every day.
And even though I care about him a lot, there are times I find it hard to not be jealous, or to compare myself to his success, or to be discouraged by the contrast in our lives.
He is my Future Self.
Can you relate?
Have you ever been able to see where you want to be, but the distance between the future and where you are right now seems so big it might as well be a million miles?
I feel this on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis.
If you’ve ever taken the Stengths Finder 2.0 test by Tom Rath (and I highly recommend you do), it identifies your top 5 strengths: things you do well and things that drive you. My #1 strength is “Futuristic”, meaning that I am fueled, driven, and motivated by knowing that what I’m doing on a regular basis is aiming toward a future goal. Because of this I’m often looking over the horizon at what could be and ways that I can improve and chase what’s ahead. This is good, but also a double-edged sword because it can easily make me discouraged that my current reality doesn’t reflect my vision of the future.
I’m sure that you’ve had those glorious days where everything is right:
Things are lining up, you’ve got the motivation, you’ve got the resources, you’ve got the support, you’ve got the inspiration, and you’re running forward at full speed. You believe you can succeed and you are envisioning it unfolding in front of you. The sun is shining, people are giving you high fives and pats on the back because your ideas are so great, they’re telling you, “You’ve got what it takes! You’re going to go far!" – Those are great days.
Then there’s the other days.
And it seems that these come more often for some reason. – You don’t want to get out of bed, the sky is cloudy, things are hard, creating new ideas is like pumping a dry well, taking action is like running through molasses, there’s no one around who can cheer you on, other people’s lives seem so much better than yours, it seems impossible to get the resources you need to make even your first steps happen, you can’t see where you’re going, and your motivation for running toward your dream is about as fiery as a damp rag. – Those are hard days.
Now I’ve described both ends of the spectrum, and most of the time we end up somewhere in between. But for most of us, I think that we more often battle the hard days.
When you do battle those hard days, these key points will give you ground to stand on:
1. Remember Why You Started.
It can be easy to lose sight of our original vision, especially when circumstances get us flustered. We may have started on a path forward, but situations in life can get our eyes off of where we’re going, on to the side of the road, and lost on detours until we can’t find our way back.
The solution is to remember what makes you feel inspired:
What's the reason you feel passionate, motivated or excited to move toward your goal? What makes you FEEL something? What makes you cry? What makes you angry? What makes you feel ALIVE?
When you’re discouraged, part of your strong foundation for action is the passion in your heart.
That passion is a flame that must be stoked and guarded on a regular basis otherwise it will get snuffed out. Do whatever it takes to put that passion in front of yourself on a daily basis, whether it means writing it on your wall, speaking daily affirmation, or having people you can go to when you feel overwhelmed. Find whatever works for you to keep you going.
2. Talk to Others Who Can Relate.
Keep in mind the people in your life who get excited when you share about what you want to accomplish, then make sure you put yourself around them on a regular basis.
Secret: EVERYONE can relate to you, because everyone feels behind at some point or another.
This is a truth. Literally every person I’ve spoken to who is pursuing some creative or business endeavor has had feelings of being behind or inadequate. And this isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a part of the pursuit of something meaningful. It’s like gravity. If you jump, there’s resistance. If you want to jump higher, you have to push harder. It’s the same in life:
If you want to reach higher than you are now, you have to push harder.
So, resistance isn’t a sign that you should relent to the pressure, but rather a sign that you are doing what it takes to make it.
The pressure is GOOD. It’s a prerequisite for success.
3. Push Through, Don’t Relent.
There are two responses you can have when you experience pressure:
RELENT - Where you push, then experience the discomfort of pushing, so you ease up to lessen the pressure and return back to the place you were at the beginning.
PUSH THROUGH - Where you push, then experience the discomfort of pushing, and proceed to push harder until the resistance breaks and you arrive at a different level than you started.
Success is less like climbing a ladder and more like crossing a finish line made from an elastic band.
Many people's sprint toward success looks the same:
They reach the elastic band finish line and it begins to stretch forward. Things seem like they are going great, but as they push it seems that everything else starts to push back and it gets harder and harder. Then they think to themselves, “This is too much. Maybe I’m not cut out for this. Maybe I’m not meant for this.”, so they ease up, slow down, and go back to where they were before, feeling defeated.
Other people are different:
The ones we call “Successful”, “Special”, “Geniuses”, “Pioneers”, “Unicorns”, the ones we idolize but don’t think we could ever be on their level – experience the same process and pressure. But the difference is that when they reach the point of maximum pressure, they keep their eyes forward and don’t relent. They remind themselves that they’ve come too far to slow down or to go back. They remind themselves that they don’t want to stay the same, they want to become more. And they push harder and they break through the resistance and arrive at new levels in life.
Why does it seem that there are so few successful people in the world?
We look at these people and present ourselves with a bagful of excuses why they are successful and we aren’t.
But here’s the truth:
These people aren’t more special than we are.
They aren’t born with some magical ability to get things done. They aren’t robots or superheroes or aliens. They’re not drinking some kind of magic “Awesome elixir” each morning. – No. – The reason there are seemingly so few of these great achievers in this world is because it’s human nature to default to the most comfortable state. And by definition that involves avoiding discomfort at all costs.
Most people choose the comfort of their less-than-ideal present over the discomfort of the path that leads to their preferred future.
Successful people are just people, like you and me, who believe that there is more to life and that they can get there. They experience discouragement, intimidation, and fear, but they’ve adjusted their perspective to view those as signs they are going in the right direction.
4. Remember The Cost.
I once heard a story from John Maxwell:
He had just finished speaking at a leadership event and was doing a meet-and-greet afterward. A young man approached him and said something along the lines of, “Great event. But I think I could do what you do. It doesn’t seem so hard: sit in front of a room of people, tell them what they should do to be better, and then get paid a bunch of money.” Maxwell responded by saying,
“Yes. I’m sure you could do what I do in time, but are you willing to go through what I’ve been through to get here?"
I think that one of the biggest reasons that we get discouraged when we compare ourselves to our dreams is that we expect the process to be much easier than it is.
We forget that there is a cost for success. And I don’t mean selling your soul. The tagline of this whole blog is “The BALANCED Pursuit of Purpose”, meaning that true success is built on a balanced foundation of every facet of your life being developed solidly.
What I mean is that we feel entitled to success, to the extent that we expect that simply having a dream qualifies us to receive the rewards that come with it.
And this isn’t always a conscious or egotistical expectation. I think that we believe our dreams will come to us if we let enough time pass just because it a nice idea. Sometimes I think, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could write a book someday.”, and I tell others about it and they think it’s a great idea too, then I wait for my book to materialize. And guess what happens? Nothing.
Another quote I heard from John Maxwell is (and I paraphrase),
Changing your expectation will change your attitude. Changing your attitude will change your actions. And changing your actions will determine your destination.
5. Your biggest rival is your Future Self, but your biggest opponent is your Present Self.
Having a rival is good. It pushes you to challenge them and to chase them, which grows you in the process. Your Future Self is the one saying, “Catch me if you can!” Chasing your rival should be an ongoing and exciting process.
But your Present Self is the opponent you have to beat on a daily basis.
They are the one who says, “You can’t do it. You’re not good enough. It looks too risky, you should just stay where you’re at. What if you fail? Go ahead, watch one more episode on Netflix…” Your Present Self is the one you have to be better than each day, which thankfully gives you a clear and simple focus:
Be better than you were yesterday and chase your future.
Thankfully this is totally achievable for each and every one of us because we can meet that goal by even the smallest margin: whether it’s learning a new word, getting up a minute earlier, talking to a new person, eating one less piece of pizza, writing one sentence of our book, drawing one sketch, or looking in the mirror and saying “Today is going to be a great day!”
Don’t believe the lies, discouragement, or distractions your present self offers to stay comfortable, push through and run forward!
6. “The obstacle is the way”
– Marcus Aurelius
This is one of my favorite quotes. It reminds me that the areas of greatest pressure give us clarity on where we should go in life. The areas of greatest challenge show us where we have the most growing potential.
And because of this understanding I get excited when I meet challenges or obstacles, despite being afraid of the outcomes or being totally out of my comfort zone.
We need to have a fresh understanding of our Future Self:
Our Future Self is our goal. And pursuit of our Future Self paves the path for us to arrive where we want to be.
One upside to feeling like you’re behind your Future Self is that it’s proof you’re looking in the right direction. It’s proof that you have VISION. And vision is the driving force that propels you forward.
Without vision you don’t have gas in the tank – you don’t even have an engine in the car!
If you feel like you’re lagging behind, be encouraged, because you have vision! You can see over the horizon where you want to be and can envision what it looks like.
Change your perspective: That vision of the future is a good thing, not a bad thing.
Vision gives you a bearing. Whatever decisions you make, you can use your vision as a guide by seeing if they align or don’t align with it. Remember that chasing the future is way better than living in the past. You can’t do anything to change your Past Self, but you can change your Present Self, which determines who your Future Self becomes.
7. Don’t Be Defeated by Your Vision of the Future, Harness It.
Make it CLEARER. Make it specific. Write out what it looks like and put it on your wall as a reminder of where you’re going. And reverse-engineer the path that you should take to get to it.
The vision of your Future Self is the guide to where you want to be. It’s not always clear, but it’s enough to get us moving forward.
Vision exists inside of us for a purpose: because we all have meaning.
We all have an inherent purpose in life to achieve and accomplish things that are greater than ourselves. And that purpose is the truest source of fulfillment in life. Every part of us feeds into it, connects to it, and amplifies it. We have to hone it, specify it, challenge it, and pursue it.
We are each made to be Frontrunners: to go before others and to clear a path where no one has gone before.
And that path will be a way that others travel on and then forge their own unique trails.
Which is an incredible thought: that there are other people whose purposes we have an ultimate impact on. Our decisions to pursue or not pursue our purpose have a huge effect on the others who are meant to follow behind us.
Understand that you cannot be behind in your process.
Although it feels that way, you’re right where you need to be.
Give yourself some grace.
The sooner you accept it, the more you can focus on being excited and the less you can feel ashamed that you aren’t ahead yet. Besides, isn’t “getting ahead of yourself” considered a bad thing? It infers that you’re jumping into things prematurely, without preparation, information or understanding. Embrace this reality:
The process of growth toward success develops the character necessary to steward that success.
When we believe in and accept our Future Selves, then we can be encouraged and motivated by them.
8. You are a Frontrunner.
I ran track all four years of high school.
In a race the person who is up front is called the “frontrunner” (for obvious reasons); this is the person who sets that pace for the rest of the pack.
If they are going fast and pushing their capacity, then so does everyone else running behind them in order to keep up and have a shot at winning. If the frontrunner is running too slow, someone else with the guts passes them and takes the lead and becomes the new frontrunner.
Being the frontrunner is not easy:
you are taking the full brunt of the wind, you’re being chased by a group who are hot on your heels, and you have to pace yourself in a way that you can win but not so fast that you burn out and fall behind.
I used to start out with the pack and then trail behind; because I would doubt my own ability to keep up the pace. I would hold back at a comfortable pace and keep enough gas in the tank so I could finish strong at the end. This was a good approach for me because it felt safe; I never burned out and I always finished. But I often finished last in each race, well behind the pack. I had a realization one day that if I stuck with the pack, I could be pulled along by their momentum, and finish better. And although I was stretched to my limit each race, I started to run faster and faster. I was having huge personal records (PRs) of 15-30 seconds each race, which is a sign that I had been running WAY too conservatively before. – This was a big confidence builder which helped me get better at racing and shift my focus to the strategy of the race rather than merely surviving.
You will still finish if you play it safe, but you will never win.
My next challenge was that the pack was way too packed!
There were so many other guys running in the pack, that I would get boxed in by them, step on their feet, and I’d have to dodge sideways to maneuver around them. It forced me to take my eyes off of the leader and I had to focus on not getting run over by the other people in the pack. (I hope you are seeing the parallel between this story and how we run our lives.)
You can’t win if you’re stuck in the pack.
There was one race in particular that had a profound impact on me.
It was going as I’ve described above, with my teammate being the frontrunner this time and a few runners from the other school making up the pack. As we approached the last lap, I felt that I could run faster, so I picked up my pace and kept my eyes ahead until the last curve before the straightaway. There was only one more runner in between me and my teammate, who was much further ahead, who I had been trailing the whole race. I started my kick (which is the last burst of speed you give at the end of a race, giving it all you’ve got) and I pumped my arms like crazy to chase the guy down.
My teammates in the stands saw me going for it and started to cheer, “Go! Go! Go!”.
We rounded the curve onto the last hundred meters and I kept accelerating, fueled by the thrill of the race and pushed on by the excitement of my team. The guy in front of me was running hard too but seemed spent. I pushed harder, legs burning and feeling like jelly, and passed him with only 10 meters to go, crossing the line and finishing second. My teammates surrounded me and gave me tons of congratulations and high fives and pats on the back. – I felt awesome!
Although I finished second, it was the most memorable finish of my track career because of how it changed my mindset;
I had pushed farther than I had ever gone before and had accomplished more than I had thought I could. I saw that,
by stretching my own capacity, I could inspire excitement and passion in others.
And I'd like to think of my teammate who came in first as a representative of my Future Self: my frontrunner who forges the way ahead so that I have someone to chase. He set the bar high so I could run at a new level.
Remember that you’ve already got everything inside of you to go past your limits and become your Future Self.
You are a frontrunner for yourself, and for those following behind you.
My faith is the foundation that keeps me grounded across all the facets and pursuits of my life. And one passage from the Bible in particular helps me push forward in times of discouragement and lack of motivation:
This reminds me that we have the option to just get through life or to chase our full potential, and the decision is completely up to us.
We aren’t victims of circumstances unless we choose to be.
If we choose to chase our biggest rival, our Future Self, then we will actually end up in those places we dream about. Success isn't a destination, it’s a journey. It’s more about HOW you get to where you’re going, so run in such a way that you will win.
There is not a limited amount of success out in the world.
As a matter of fact, there is a unique territory in front of each individual, waiting to be explored. We can stay close to home, never wandering more than a few metaphorical miles from what we know is comfortable, or we can forge on, pushing aside boulders and trees, and run into the “great unknown” to experience adventure, possibility, and greater fulfillment than we ever imagined.
Sound lofty to you? Maybe that’s because it is.
I don’t believe that we are wired to achieve the bare minimum for survival and existence. If we were then we wouldn’t have a longing in our hearts for more. I believe that we are designed to go forward and to grow, to challenge our limits and stretch our capacity.
I believe that the sooner we reach the furthest point on our horizon, the sooner we can go beyond it,
and I’m dedicating my life to see how far I can get and to help others chase their own horizons.
Adjust your vision.
Chase your purpose, and when you feel behind your Future Self, go back to this foundation:
- Remember why you started.
- Talk to others who can relate. (And EVERYONE can relate.)
- Push through, don’t relent.
- Remember the cost.
- Your biggest rival is your Future Self, but your biggest opponent is your Present Self.
- The Obstacle Is the Way.
- Don’t be defeated by your vision, harness it.
- You are a Frontrunner.
Don’t just run to finish, run to win.