The Competition Mindset Hurts Your Career

In the early stages of my career, I was exceedingly aware of different sets of peers and measuring my self-worth against their accomplishments. I would look at those I graduated with from college and graduate school seeing what they had achieved and wonder if I was keeping pace with them. Once I started working, I had a new set of peers, either colleagues within a workplace or, more generally, those in the field that were around my age. 



I was fortunate that I experienced success early in my career, but that did not ratchet down my being competitive with others. Instead, your peers become a set of other ‘successful’ people and the drive to do more and better compared to them serves as motivation. You may hear athletes talk about how a great competitor pushed them to do more. As a result, they might train harder to get in better shape, understand fundamentals of their sport and improve their statistics. However, the metrics for achievement through points scored or the lowering of a personal best in a race are more absolute than the complexity of ‘winning’ life. 

I have moved away completely from thinking of others as competitors. By “completely” I mean, I know my mind only goes there when I am in my literal worst state of mind with anxiety evident in multiple aspects of my life. I have pivoted from thinking about people as competition and replaced it with this notion of “fandom,” or dedication to extolling their specific value as I see it.

What is the difference?

The Competitor worldview tends to see the world in the following ways:

  • There is a scarcity mindset around resources and opportunity. I say yes to many things, even things that might not be what I most want to do because I am afraid of a competitor getting it. This outlook often extends to people who are not your competition for clients, but that you do not want to succeed as competition in life. 
  • You spend time learning about a person to understand their weakness so that you can defeat them. 
  • You may enact a strategy directed at diminishing this person.

I want to note that once we have decided someone is competition, much of our time goes into taking them down versus lifting ourselves up.

Alternatively, the fan mindset prioritizes other things:

  • If I have a sharp understanding of who I am and who I hope to engage I will see that there are a scant number of people who are aspiring to do the same thing.
  • I value relationships and want to understand others and our differences to grasp who they want to engage. I recognize that this may not lead to more opportunities for me, although it often does. 
  • I enact a strategy where time is spent connecting people to opportunities. We are all different, so we can all win.

We have been socialized to see people as impediments in the zero-sum game of professional opportunity and lifetime happiness. If you do the work I am describing, it shifts how you see possibility. I am hoping that you might consider moving away from that game table where there is a winner and join one that has a cooperative mindset. 

Let us consider how competition is used most frequently with this person in your ‘field’ or in some ‘social circle.’ I would argue that you are seeing them as competition is a smoke screen that takes you away from doing the necessary work to consider and articulate your strengths and desires. Also, to shore up the weaknesses that get in the way of opportunity. We should spend less time poisoning their well.

When a colleague comes back from a glamorous three-week trip or was asked to speak at a dream event, I have to ask myself, “is my jealousy reactionary?” They have a shiny new reward, and I do not. Was that something I wanted? What are the amazing things in my life? Do I want to put in the work to realize successes like theirs too? Or am I not prepared to put in the effort or deal with the opportunity costs associated with realizing what they did. We, YOU, have the opportunity to realize what will make us happy based on where we devote our time.

Similarly, when you interview for a job, your competition is against their ‘ideal’ position description. Did you do the work to ensure strong materials, an activated network, gained the skills that are valued, etc.? If not, which is most often the case, your competition is knowing and sharing the best version of you in a process. Not the mysterious other people in a candidate pool. 

That is why I am a huge fan of other people, these days. Ultimately, creating footholds that help others access to propel themselves forward is what I prefer to spend my time doing. Remember, it is hard for you to have big fans and supporters without being so for others too.

Russ Finkelstein [] is the opposite of your High School Guidance Counselor.  A career coach, social entrepreneur, and advisor to founders, he is currently the Director of Coaching with the Roddenberry Fellowship, Coach-in-Residence with StartingBloc Fellowship, and a Co-Founder of Title8 a Legal Marketplace. He was a founder of the noted careers website and was chosen as a Generation Z Influencer by LinkedIn.

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