Most of as are familiar with two types of optimists: let’s call them the Hopeful and the Realists. The Hopeful believe, against all experience, that the best possible thing will happen. They tend to be characterized by childishness, naïveté and an inordinate tendency to be disappointed. Realists, on the other hand, tend to focus on the positive aspects of an outcome regardless of what happens. They tend to be characterized by maturity, calm and cheerfulness.
The Hopeful says “I will win America’s Got Talent!”. The Realist says “No matter what happens, there will be positive aspects.”
Similarly, there are two types of competitiveness: the kind that gnaws at you if you don’t finish first or win the gold medal (Michael Jordan) and the kind that aims to out-perform all the others while maintaining psychological equanimity in the face of catastrophe (Lou Gehrig).
But there is a third category of competitiveness which I’ll call the anti-competitive. You know the type: for example, the comedian who goes over the time allotted to him despite the despite that fact that he’s not getting any laughs.
Ask the funniest comedian on the bill how much material she has and the answer will be “About an hour”. Ask the least-funny comedian on the bill how much material she has and the answer will be closer to two hours.
These anti-competitive types aren’t interested in being the best performer on the bill. Indeed, it’s the furthest thing from their mind. They are “grateful to be there” and more interested in maximizing their potential (whatever that means), rather than maximizing the audience’s enjoyment.
Having been performing a period spanning nearly forty years, there are still very few things which I can proclaim with certainty but one of them is this: my sense of competitiveness is the number one driver of my success.
We live in a profoundly “soft” era: feelings and effort mean more than accomplishment. Winning a marathon means less finishing a marathon which, in turn, matters less than having the courage to start.
“I feel good about what I’m performing”, however, is very different than “I am the greatest ballet dancer in the world”.
Those aspiring to be successful performers should hew to the latter.