Win or Lose, Competition Always Makes You Stronger

Competition builds winners, leaders, innovators and success stories. Without it, none of us would be here.

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By Steve Tobak

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

People have a remarkable capacity for putting off the inevitable and making life way harder than it has to be. We do that by creating huge, imaginary obstacles and using them as excuses not to take any action at all. It affects our work, our careers, our companies … even our health. I don't know why but I suspect it's always been that way.

I can just imagine Julius Caesar looking sadly down at his overgrown belly and confiding in Brutus, "I can't even stand to look in the mirror anymore. Cleopatra says I've got to lay off the mutton, but how am I supposed to cut back with all these damn feasts?"

The reason why more people aren't healthy is because they think they'll have to go on a strict diet, give up everything they love to eat and commit to a daily exercise regime. It's not surprising that most people see those hurdles as painfully insurmountable. So what do they do? Nothing at all.

Truth is, getting into decent shape isn't that hard, unless of course you're a complete mess to begin with. All it usually takes is eating a little less, being reasonably intelligent about what you put in your body, and getting out and working up a sweat a few days a week. It's not that big of a deal. But we make it one. And that's why we don't do it.

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We tend to view competing for business or jobs the same way. Instead of facing reality and admitting the truth – that it's a competitive world and we need to beat out everyone else to come out on top – we come up with foolish utopian notions that everyone is a winner and why can't we all just get along?

I'll tell you why we can't all just get along. Because we're human and that's not what humans do. In our personal lives we compete for mates and friends. In the workplace, we compete for jobs, raises, promotions, benefits, choice projects, mindshare, budget. You name it, we compete for it. Sure, some of us get along … on a good day.

Besides, everyone can't be a winner. Contrary to all the feel-good BS you read these days, markets are zero-sum games, more or less. There are a finite number of customers and amount of money to spend. Yes, markets do tend to expand over time, but that's on a macro level. Every transaction still has exactly one winner and lots of losers.

While competing may be hard, it's not all that hard. It creates a little friction, a little adversity, a little stress, but it's not like getting a colonoscopy or a root canal. It's not like going on a strict Paleo diet or running a marathon. Competition is not going to kill you. On the contrary, win or lose, it will make you stronger.

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This is nothing new. Competition has been around since the days when Barney the purple dinosaur and his friends ruled this enormous Petri dish called Earth. Without competition there would be no natural selection. There would be no evolution. There would be no human race. As you can see, the concept of competing for resources in a finite ecosystem has been around for some time.

Competition doesn't just create winners and success stories. It builds strong personalities, resilience and determination, a sense of humor and humility. It builds high-performing entrepreneurs, executives and business leaders. It makes us strong.

Competition leads to innovation and advances in technology. That's why we say necessity is the mother of invention. So is adversity and desperation that comes from wanting a better life than you have and coming up with new ways to earn it. That's how competition advances civilization forward.

But none of that will happen if you refuse to compete. It won't happen if you insist on creating these ridiculous hurdles for yourself and make believe that competition is this horrible thing that hurts the other guy and makes you a bad person. None of that is true.

You know the phrase "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger?" It's about competition. Without competition, that concept ceases to exist. Without competition, nobody gets stronger.

Keep that in mind when you're trying to figure out if you should start a company or what kind of business to get into. Don't turn competition into the big, bad boogeyman it isn't. You can't simply avoid it by making believe it doesn't exist and choosing what you think is the path of least resistance.

This may be counterintuitive and more than a little ironic, but if you choose that path – the path of least resistance – you know what you'll find? More competition than you ever imagined because that's where all the weak people go to avoid it. And believe me when I tell you, there is no business there. Just a lot of fools.

Related: Want to Be Happy? Quit Trying to Be So Happy.

Steve Tobak

Author of Real Leaders Don't Follow

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at, where you can contact him and learn more.

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