Participators and Competitors
Everyone participates, not everyone competes
Thinking about competing? The 2018 CrossFit Games has you all fired up and ready to go? Ready to sign on the dotted line and call yourself a competitor? Let me save you some pain. The vast majority of you are lying to yourselves. You don’t want to compete. You want to participate and there is a hell of a big difference between competing and participating.
Participation is great. I’ve done it numerous times. I participated in the Tough Mudder with 15 other awesome athletes and it was an experience that I will long remember. I have participated in (and completed) 9 marathons. I participate in dirt biking, skiing, cycling, hiking and a host of other rigorous physical activities that immensely improve the quality of my life on this planet. For me, participating is not about any dramatic physical change, but rather for the robust mental stimulation and the stirring of my soul that it brings.
That is not to say that fitness cannot be improved and positive physical changes cannot come about from participation. To the contrary, the majority of the people alive in this word accomplish all they set out to by simply participating. Show up consistently, work intensely, fuel yourself well, and good things will come. This is true in life, also. Show up, work hard, fuel your heart and mind with positive thoughts and experiences and you will find success.
What differentiates competing from participating? First, competing is not for everyone. I’ll really lay it on the line and make the statement that competing is only for those that want to reach the pinnacle of success in both their personal and professional lives. Im not trying to be Debbie-downer here, Im just stating what often gets lost in today’s “everyone is a winner” world. If everyone is the best, then no-one is the best. That is the beauty of the good Lord’s gift of free will to mankind, and for those of us in the USA, our hard fought-for rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of what ever the hell we want. Some will achieve, some will not, and a few will take advantage of the opportunities before them to accomplish the seemingly impossible. Everyone participates, not everyone competes.
Participation gets you what you need. Competing gets you what you want.
There are 5 compelling traits possessed by those that truly want to compete. If you lack any of these traits and hope to be competitive, you are selling yourself a bill of goods.
1) They know themselves well, and they always seek self improvement.
Killing yourself in the gym these days is pretty easy. You cant swing a dead cat by the tail without hitting a training facility that bills itself as the last bastion of athletic performance. While there is no shortage of opportunities to get in “2 a days” and subject oneself to endless hours of needless physical punishment in an attempt to show the world how serious you are about competing, there are scant facilities and coaches that are willing to hold you accountable for your weaknesses. That is, however, exactly what success takes: commitment to the unglamorous and the mundane. It takes zealot-like dedication to finding and eliminating weaknesses. Zero in on all the glaring holes in your game, and attack them relentlessly.
The same holds true in your professional lives. If you are looking to take on roles of greater responsibility and esteem, attack your weakness.
2) They subordinate their interests for the welfare of their team.
Success is a lonely road, you must take all the company you can. It is hard to put my finger on the reason, and there is no empirical evidence to back up my claim. I have only my experiences and the experiences of 242 years worth of Marines upon which to base my premise. The less we focus in on our own needs and the more time we spend focusing on the needs of those that are part of our journey, the more successful we become. Maybe it is the sense of satisfaction we find in helping others that emboldens us so. Maybe it is the prioritizing that occurs in the absence of spare time that helps us commit to a training schedule. Maybe we become better at things the more we help and teach others. Maybe, like the Grinch, our hearts grow a few sizes bigger every time we lend a hand and make someone else the priority. I don’t have the answer. I just know what works. And the more successful the person is, I’ve noticed the less concerned they are with themselves and the more concerned they are with the welfare of everyone else on their team. I always told my Marines, you can never answer too loudly, and your can never help your buddies too much.
In the work place, the concept of placing the welfare of others before ourselves can be counter intuitive. Our guts tell us we need to do what we can to get a head in order to get noticed by the brass. If you can do the opposite and shift your focus to the welfare of your team members and fellow employees, especially your subordinates, you will find success in spades. Any boss worth their salt will see that you are the common denominator in your department’s winning ways. And if your boss doesn’t, it isn’t the type of work place climate that you need to deal with.
3) They find fulfillment in the draconian and austere facets of sacrifice.
I refer to the law of sacrifice often: giving something up of value for something you value more. Physical and monetary privation, lack of sleep, loss of a social life, societal stigma, time away from family, the list of areas in which successful people willingly sacrifice is endless. It is always beneficial to remember that competing doesn’t have to be fun, it just has to be something that you want more than anything else. Competitors have learned to adapt to the demands of sacrifice. The solitude of an early morning training session, where the only company is the sound of heavy breathing and clanging of iron, becomes a welcomed friend. Meal preparation and calorie counting becomes late night entertainment. Acquaintances abound while friendships wain. Hobbies take a back seat to the incessant call of the barbell and the timer’s cadence. Grass grows long, shudders go unpainted, and the honey-do list grows fat, but the training gets done, the steel hardens, and edge gets sharp.
Once you become strong enough to obey the law of sacrifice, you inevitably become a giant in the workplace. Your reputation precedes you because of your willingness to do what it takes to get the job done. You become relentless and utterly reliable. You become the one that others look to when times get tough. You hear everyone breathe a sigh of relief when you arrive on scene.
4) Competitors have an almost inhuman ability to embrace pain and suffering.
The body is an amazing machine. Capable of locomotion of the most precise and powerful kind, mankind continues to do things that would have been viewed as the stuff of fantasy only a few short year before. The first sub 4 minute mile, the first 1000 lbs deadlift and squat, and most recently, the first 220kg snatch. The training required to accomplish such feats is grueling. It absolutely demands that the athlete subject themselves to painful training regimens that often times have long term debilitating effects. Even at more modest levels of performance in order to be competitive you have to pay the “iron price” - pain. It is a non-negotiable, you must be willing to push yourself into that dark, painful place, and you must be capable of staying there for extended periods of time. Then you have to do it again the next day, and a hundred days after that. It is easy to talk about; very few are willing to subject themselves to it. Results speak a truth no tongue can change. You must be willing to suffer.
While there are fewer opportunities in most lines of work to display a willingness to embrace pain, the ability to endure pain has direct carryover into our performance at work. The fact is it is easier to endure emotional stress if you are good at enduring physical stress. The more time you suffer in the gym the less time you find yourself suffering outside the gym. Show me someone that can survive a training regimen demanding enough to produce a sub 4 minute Fran time or produce a 500+ deadlift and I will show you someone that doesn’t need a safe space, that doesn’t often come to tears, and that doesn’t walk away when the going gets tough.
5) They desire to be pushed outside your comfort zone.
Competitors do so for the challenge. They need it in their lives. The easy way doesn’t suit them. They desire to be put in situations that force them to do things they wouldn’t normally do, or even know how to. The deliberately seek out positions and tasks that force them outside of their comfort zone. In a gym setting this usually takes the form of participating in clinics and spending time trying news things and movements they aren’t good at.
The Marine Corps cultivated this trait in its Marines by thrusting them into a new billet (job) every 2-3 years. As an infantry officer, my job was to train and care for my Marines and lead them in battle. Every 2-3 years I would be assigned a “b-billet”, a second job in which I had zero experience. I was expected to learn quickly and make it happen.
To Participate or to Compete, that is the question.
That question can only be answered by you. Participation is not of lesser value than competing. It is just different. You can participate in anything you want and have fun doing it. The only thing you have to reconcile with is the results achieved from participating. A better way to phrase it may be, when you participate you have to reconcile with the fact you may not know what results you are going to achieve, other than having fun and enjoying life. And damn, enjoying life isn’t a bad result, right? If, however, you want to achieve a higher level of performance, you want to wake up in the morning with a sense of purpose, you want to live your life with a mission in hand and fire in your belly, then rise to the occasion and compete. And develop in yourself these 5 traits:
1. Know yourself and seek self improvement.
2. Subordinate your interests for the welfare of your team
3. Obey the Law of Sacrifice.
4. Embrace pain and suffering.
5. Push yourself outside your comfort zone.
Your Gym Full of Iron is a great place to start learning how.