Like many entrepreneurs who felt driven to grow their companies, he suffered from a major disability, namely, his own blindness to what he had accomplished. He was haunted by a sense of inadequacy, of not measuring up. He would compare himself with the most famous entrepreneurs in the world and wonder what they had that he lacked. He was so focused on his shortcomings that he couldn’t see – or give himself credit for – the real contributions he had made to his community and the positive impact he had on the lives of the people around him. It was as though all that counted for nothing if he hadn’t achieved what the world considered the pinnacle of success as measured by the size of his company or his personal fortune.
– About Jay Goltz, CEO of CitiStorage
Players must remember that the best victory was not over the opponent but over oneself.
– Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American Entrepreneur, Statesman and Scientist, commenting on the game of chess
We assess every facet of our lives in comparison to others. Do I make more or less money than my peers? Do I live in a smaller or bigger house than my parents or siblings? Do I have a more important job than the people I went to school with? Am I in better physical shape than my old friends? Are my children as successful as my friends’ children? There are a number of problems with keeping score in this way:
– Being more “successful” than those to whom you compare yourself may not make you happy.
– People have completely different advantages and “starting points”. If you are in the race for wealth, you may be at quite a disadvantage competing against someone who has inherited a vast fortune. In every respect – beauty, intelligence, athletic ability – people have widely varying inheritances.
– There will always be others who are more successful than you in some way, thus it may be impossible to win the game; this may lead you to feel bitter. Conversely, there will always be those who are not as successful as yourself, perhaps leading you to arrogance or conceit.
– You have no control over the actions of others. Thus, no matter how hard you try, you may lose the game. And just the fact of not having control may be frustrating.
– Those whom you are competing against may play by a completely different set of rules; it is very frustrating to play a game against those who use different rules.
– Competition with others implies that for some to win, others must lose. This is neither healthy nor true. In fact, when an individual creates value, many people benefit.
This book is largely about taking the above factors into account so you may fairly compare your own accomplishments to others. But while acknowledging that people seem driven to compare themselves to others, the most important game is with oneself. Once you’ve determined how you will create value, decide how you will keep track of that value – that is your way of keeping score. This outlook has a number of very important advantages:
– While you have little or no control over the actions of others, you have almost complete control over your own actions. It is true that there are some events over which you have no control; your plane may crash, you may develop cancer – but overall, on a day-to-day basis, you have a very high degree of control, and complete control over the choices you make. Each day you can decide what you will try to accomplish; each day you can make a full effort, or not. Only you can decide how hard you will work to achieve your goals.
– You can make your own rules and prioritize your values.
– You can score yourself only on those aspects of your life which you believe will lead you to happiness. Perhaps you already have enough money to meet your needs, and you decide that raising happy children is the way that you enjoy creating value. If so, you can focus on your children, and not worry whether your income is keeping pace with others. But if you decide to focus on your children, you should also avoid comparisons in this area. What matters is whether your children are as happy as possible; not whether they’re as happy as someone else’s children.
The value of competing against yourself is easily seen in the world of amateur sports; if a middle aged woman takes up running to improve her health, she would not dream of trying to run the worlds’ fastest mile, or the world’s fastest anything. If she is sensible, she will set attainable goals that can be reached with the amount of effort that makes sense given the amount of time and effort she is willing to devote to this aspect of her life. For a woman in, say, her mid-forties, 25 pounds overweight, and with no recent history of exercise, she may start by running miles at a 12 or 13 minute mile pace – and that’s just fine. If she sets as her goal running 10 minute miles, that might be quite ambitious, but if she were to reach that goal, it would represent a dramatic improvement in her fitness, and would probably, when combined with better nutrition, result in very encouraging weight loss and improvements in other overall measures of health.
The key in setting goals, and keeping score, is to set goals that are meaningful to the person who is trying to achieve them – not the goals that they are told should be meaningful. As Kim Polese, founder of Marimba Inc., says, “I look around me, and I have so many friends who started companies who are worth $50 million and more, and they are depressed. They think they’ve made it, and they take six months off and they realize they’re more depressed than ever. Because this wasn’t really what ultimately it turned out life was all about.”
So many people pursue wealth only because it’s what they are expected to pursue; not because it has meaning to them. As Bo Burlingham found in researching Small Giants, what enabled his group of successful entrepreneurs to avoid the trap of seeking growth for growth’s sake is their self knowledge; they actually thought about what they wanted to get out of life, in a broad sense, and how their business could contribute, or be an impediment, to those personal goals. “They are very clear in their own minds about what life has to offer at it’s best – in terms of exciting challenges, camaraderie, compassion, hope, intimacy, community, a sense of purpose, feelings of accomplishment, and so on – and they have organized their businesses so that they and the people they work with can get it.”