The Difference Between Fearing the Competition, and Being the Competition

I’m deathly afraid of insects, and instead of letting a bee flit around me and go on its merry way, I swat at it desperately and irritate it, because I’m scared and intimidated. My father would constantly tell me, “Leave it alone! It’s more afraid of you than you are of it.” I didn’t understand this logic, because the mere presence of the insect was upsetting and bothersome to me, and if something feels threatening it’s hard to ignore. In reality, the bee doesn’t care that I am present – it has business to take care of whether I exist or not. And when it comes down to it, I guess I was just giving it more credit and power than was really necessary. We do the same thing with people.

By wackystuff | Flickr

If you really want to be better than your competition, stop comparing yourself to them.
People in New York City suffer heavily from ‘grass is greener syndrome’, always thinking there’s something bigger and better to be had on the other side of the fence, and as a result we’re scared to death to put our eggs in the wrong basket. I see this most often with dating, but honestly I see it just as bad when it comes to companies hiring quality candidates.

As job seekers, entrepreneurs and individuals, we’re constantly comparing ourselves to any and all of our relative counterparts. We look at the competition and say, “Why did he get the job… I’m just as qualified, if not more!” We look at our colleagues in the industry and say, “Well I could have written that article too if I had time to sit around on my @$% and write.” We look at our fellow entrepreneurs and think, “What’s she doing to get more clients and customers than I am? Clearly there’s something I’m missing in my approach.”

And the worst mistake we make…
Is sitting around, wasting time and energy trying to put our finger on just what we’re missing or where we went wrong, when often times it’s not that simple. Whether it’s a meeting with a prospective client, a job interview, or a date, when the results don’t line up with our initial expectations, we turn the blame inward and wrack our brains trying to figure out what we missed or why we screwed it up, and who is out there capitalizing off of our supposed incompetencies.

The biggest issue my career clients tend to come to me with is wanting to understand why it is they weren’t picked for an opportunity they applied to, and maybe even interviewed for. And I give them my honest opinion, which is “There could be a hundred different reasons… and you will never know.” Now, if any of those potential reasons are glaring red flags on their resume, in their communication, or any other aspect of their job search strategy, well then that’s where I come in to help them understand and overcome those challenges. If there’s anything close to an easy answer to “Why didn’t I get hired?” I will give it to you. However, 9 times out of 10… there isn’t.

And then the work falls on them, which they don’t like – understanding that they’re unnecessarily comparing themselves to their fabricated competition who clearly did or said something they didn’t (I’m being sarcastic here). The other guy may not have done anything different, in fact they may not have even interviewed as well, or had as well written a resume… but they know someone. They used to work with a current employee. They had an informational interview 6 months ago with the president of the company and strategically stayed on his radar by keeping in touch. Or… someone on the team just thought they were a better fit, because they reminded them of their best friend/former colleague/old boss/new girlfriend/the guy they like to drink with after work. You don’t know, and unless there’s an obvious red flag in your strategy staring you in the face, move on and stop letting it stress you out. There is another opportunity out there for you.

That is never to say that it’s okay to be complacent about your shortcomings, and ignore opportunities for improvement. But there is a big difference between the obvious results of shortcomings, and events stemming from circumstances outside of your control. Your mission is to understand the differentiation. If your resume is terrible, make it a point to have a professional rewrite it. But you can’t go knocking on HR’s door kicking and screaming and trying to find out why they rejected you. You won’t get an answer.

Working for yourself is no exception.
As much as I see the detriments of constant self-comparison among job seekers, I see it equally as rampant among entrepreneurs starting out in their small businesses. When you’re completely self-reliant on your own talents, skills and strategy to create a sustainable living, it’s very easy to break it down and dissect everything you’re doing on an atomic level. When you go into business for yourself, inevitably you start surrounding yourself with other entrepreneurs, freelancers and like-minded folks who understand the challenges and advantages of your situation. You need that energy, you need that environment to thrive. But often the disadvantage to that situation is that it causes you to keep looking around, trying to gauge the level of success that your fellow entrepreneurs are having, and then trying to figure out why you’re not at the same level. Forget that your business is only slightly identical, or that you cater to a difference audience, or that they’ve been doing it a year or two or three longer than you have, and have had a longer time to build up their client base. It’s human nature to compare ourselves to people we admire in some aspect. It’s also disastrous, because we tend to hyper-focus in on what we don’t have that other people do, instead of the individual progress we ourselves are making, and where can make potential improvements.

And the grass is not greener.
Just because someone seemingly has more clients than you, or was hired instead of you, doesn’t mean they’re privy to some secret or more receptive to good luck than you are. When I started out building my business, I used to look at one of my old coaching mentors and be in awe of her ability to draw in potential clients, like tweens to Bieber show. She seemed like she was never at a lack for potential, interested clients, just waiting to sign up and write her a check. And then as I met more people within my business circle, I started to hear from colleagues what a terrible reputation she had for falling way short of her clients’ expectations. See, she was really good at getting them in the door, but her delivery was apparently awful, and ruining her reputation in the process. And here I was holding her up on a pedestal thinking, “Wow, I’ll never be as good a sales and marketing person as Janice. I guess I’m doomed to be second-rate.”

There is nothing wrong with looking at what others like you have done and learning from their process, their successes, and if you’re privy to it, their challenges. Everybody has their own story to tell of how they got where they are, professionally, personally, and in their business. But there’s a fine line between learning, and yearning to be a carbon copy of what we consider on the surface to define “successful”. You don’t know that person’s full story. You don’t know that they have a thriving business, but their partner just left them because they’re a chronic workaholic. The idea isn’t to replicate someone else’s blueprint and follow their path. It’s to educate ourselves, and then use that information to make our own decisions and shape our own journey as it relates to, and satisfies, our needs as professionals and individuals.

Don’t be envious, be real.
Not only is it okay for you to be unique as a job seeker or an entrepreneur, it’s a necessary part of effectively marketing yourself and achieving successful results. Your path to your dream job or owning your own sustainable business may be longer, shorter, easier or harder than your colleagues, friends or competition, but that is how it is supposed to be. You cannot replicate someone else’s success without also replicating that person’s failures, and probably some new ones, in the process. Instead, I would encourage you to create complete clarity and understanding around your own individual strengths, your value proposition, and what you bring to the table for your customers, for your organization and for your target audience.

What do you do well?
What do you do well that is unique to you?
What do you not do so well that you would like to do better?
Now, what resources can you take advantage of to learn the things you need to learn to bring that piece into balance with the rest?

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