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Compete Against Yourself!

I don’t compete with others as a general rule. Instead, I compete against myself.

As a young sales professional early in my career, I was given a sales quota of $600,000 for the year. Knowing the nature of the sales realities I was dealing with allowed for the possibility of closing business every week (as opposed to every day or every month), I simply divided that $600,000 by 52 (for 52 weeks in the year) then rounded upwards slightly to build a cushion, and came up with a nice round figure of $11,540 which was my target for sales revenue each week. I was fixated on that number. It was all I thought about while at work. And while I did not meet or exceed that magic number every week, I exceeded it most weeks, resulting in an annual sales revenue of $1,237,949 for the year – essentially doubling the sales quota I was assigned.

I kept meticulous records of my weekly sales numbers for that year. So when management assigned me a new sales quota for my second year of one million dollars, I ignored it.

Instead, each week, I looked at last year’s numbers for that same week, and that became the number I had to exceed. There had been a few gargantuan-sized sales performances in Year One, somewhere in the neighborhood of $104,000 – a seemingly impossible number to replicate. But I was totally focused and up for the challenge, and I did the impossible through sheer grit and steely determination, beating those astonishingly high revenue targets. I didn’t care if there was a sales contest taking place for our team of a dozen or so sales reps. If a contest was happening and I was in, say, second place, I didn’t work any harder to try and beat whoever was in first place. I really didn’t care. All I cared about during that second year of sales was beating my sales revenue figures for that same week of the year before. So I did not compete with others. Yet I beat my million dollar sales quota by a wide margin.

Same thing with exercise. When I’m in the gym and lifting weights, I often imagine I am the weakest guy in the room. I see people with arms much larger and stronger than my own. But I spend no time wondering why I am not as strong as the next guy, because, frankly, I don’t care. I only care if I am outperforming myself from the previous workout. Here’s a specific example: I work my arms every Wednesday and Saturday. Let’s say on a given Wednesday, I was lifting 70 pounds on an E-Z Curl bar, and I was doing both upright rowing for my shoulders, and curls for my biceps. Perhaps on that Wednesday I managed to do 3 sets of 8 reps for both curls and upright rowing. Not bad. That Saturday, it will be 3 sets of 9. The following Wednesday it will be 3 sets of 10. And the following Saturday it will be 3 sets of 11. Notice I am committed to going up one single rep for the 3 sets for both exercises every day I do an arm workout. Once I hit 3 sets of 15 reps for those two exercises, I will, on the next workout, pick up an 80# E-Z Curl bar. But I will only be able to do 3 sets of 5. So I’ve gone up in weight, which is fantastic, but I have to start at a much more modest number of reps. Still, I’ll repeat the same process, going up in the number of reps until I can manage to pull off 3 sets of 15 reps. It will take about one month or so to do that. And then I will stop with the 80# E-Z Curl bar, and pick up a 90#. (Now I know that this pattern cannot go on forever, especially at my age. Eventually I will reach my limits and have to take a different approach. But imagine the strength I will have acquired by trying to beat my previous performance by even a small amount!)

So competing against others isn’t always necessary unless you are part of a sports team or a political election or something similar. There are countless ways you can compete with yourself and slowly but incrementally improve your performance over time to the point that you can do positively amazing things! You will be proud of your accomplishment, and you can relax knowing you didn’t have to step on anyone else’s toes to get there.

Not a bad outcome.

Ara Norwood is a multi-faceted and results-oriented professional. Spanning a multiplicity of disciplines including leadership, management, innovation, strategy, service, sales, business ethics, and entrepreneurship. Ara is also a historian, having special expertise on the era of the founding of our republic.
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