Debunking Limiting Myths – Competition

Roger Federer and Serena Williams are, arguably, the best tennis players to date since they have both managed to shred records set by tennis legends such as Rod Laver, Billie Jean King and Bjorn Borg amongst others. I fell in love with Grand Slam tennis during my school days and in a typical year, I save myself for the 4 Grand Slams and watch the masters at work on grass, clay and hardcourt.

If you’re not a tennis fan, please bear with me, I’m going somewhere with this.

Roger Federer has sublime skills and makes it all look so effortless, the word “genius” has been used many times by enthusiastic tennis commentators to describe the man and his game. Serena Williams, apart from her obvious talents, is a supreme fighter and never ever concedes a point without digging deep. I mean every single point that is played. But there was a time when I was frustrated with both, especially Roger Federer. Roger had his heyday and swept the boards, but age, and the newcomers, also started catching up with him and he began losing matches. Roger was always a shoo-in for the finals and lifting the trophy so for him to lose in the first or second round to a qualifier did not make for an elevating sight. I used to feel so embarrassed for the maestro being shown up by youngsters ranked 867 in the ATP tour and would wonder, “why doesn’t he just retire before this gets even more embarrassing, they always say retire when you are at the top of your game because that is how you will be remembered.” I felt that he was now rubbishing his legacy and it made me want to scream in frustration.


It was the norm back in the day to retire at a certain age and go into commentating or charity work but somehow, these 2 keep getting better and better. Yes, they may not always win like they used to, but they are firmly back to their winning ways and Roger now holds the record for oldest world number 1 in tennis history. So, what’s going on? Why did Roger not give up despite his shocking losing streak a few years ago? I’ve come to realize that it’s not just about smashing records held by previous greats nor even about the so-called competition because it was never about them.


These guys, much like other professionals at the top of their game in their sectors, are not competing with anyone but themselves, that’s what gives them such incredible drive and motivation. They constantly want to do better and stretch the outer limits of their potential, not because they want to beat their opponent, but because they want to reach their goals and do their best, their absolute best, every single time they are on the court. There are currently 2920 professional tennis players in the ATP and WTA combined, according to Online Tennis Instruction, and much like the 7 billion people on this planet, no one individual can compete with them all. It is such a waste of time and energy to compete with the next person. There is only one YOU that will ever walk this earth and only one THEM. So, what’s the point of competing? Why should an apple compete with an orange? Why should a stalk of celery compete with a sweet potato? Even apples shouldn’t compete with other apples because no two apples are ever the same.
Why should life be a competition? Why should we raise our children to compete? We are setting them up for failure (at least in their minds and hearts) because they will soon realize as they grow up that this world is full of talented and gifted people and they can’t outcompete them all. Then what?


Shouldn’t the main driver and motivator of performance in work and organizations, studies, entrepreneurship, and all other areas of life, be that one should play at peak by doing THEIR absolute best consistently? That one should constantly be setting and striving for their well-formed goals and outcomes by resolving to outperform themselves each time they hunker down to achieve something? I am by no means implying that Roger or Serena or a captain of industry like Sheryl Sandberg or Basetsana Kumalo would not be interested in what others in their field are doing and how they do it but I’m guessing that’s not where their main focus is.


Incidentally, and to my utter delight, I attended a talk this Saturday hosted by the Global Forum for Women Entrepreneurs (GFWE). The keynote speaker was His Royal Majesty Drolor Bosso Adamtey I of Ghana (also known as Professor Kingsley Fletcher) an engineer, entrepreneur and holder of 3 Phd’s in Education, Philosophy and Theology. HRM Adamtey I has accomplished many things in Africa and on the global stage including serving as a Special Advisor to the Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the United Nations Development Programme for Africa.
HRM touched on the fallacy that is “competition” in his inspiring keynote. Here are a few relevant nuggets for you so that you may forever be freed from this bondage called “competition”:
*To keep challenging yourself and shifting the goalposts, don’t ever be impressed with your last success. Keep pushing!
*Satisfaction leads to complacency and atrophy; always strive to go beyond your first and last performance.
*Contentment is qualitatively different from satisfaction, so by all means be content and know the difference.


We’ve come to the end of Myths Busting March and to summarize the key points made in the series:
1. You create your own luck in this life; personal responsibility is a good look to wear and ensures that you’ll never be a victim.
2. Whatever it is that you want to do and pursue with dynamism and passion, go for it and forget myths such as “entrepreneurs are born, not made”. The only limits that exist are the ones that you set for yourself.
3. Embrace failure. Failure is your irreplaceable, real-life, real-time MBA.
4. Compete with only yourself and you’ll lead a happy, jealousy-free life; a life that embraces the light in others because you know that we are all here for a purpose. Find yours.