“How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself and in no instance bypass the discriminations of reason? You have been given the principles that you ought to endorse, and you have endorsed them. What kind of teacher, then, are you still waiting for in order to refer your self-improvement to him? You are no longer a boy, but a full-grown man. If you are careless and lazy now and keep putting things off and always deferring the day after which you will attend to yourself, you will not notice that you are making no progress, but you will live and die as someone quite ordinary.
From now on, then, resolve to live as a grown-up who is making progress, and make whatever you think best a law that you never set aside. And whenever you encounter anything that is difficult or pleasurable, or highly or lowly regarded, remember that the contest is now: you are at the Olympic Games, you cannot wait any longer, and that your progress is wrecked or preserved by a single day and a single event. That is how Socrates fulfilled himself by attending to nothing except reason in everything he encountered. And you, although you are not yet a Socrates, should live as someone who at least wants to be a Socrates.”
― Epictetus (From Manual 51)
Pretty straightforward isn’t he?
Ah, competition, the very heart of our capitalist societies.
It must be good right? I mean, competition is what drives business to make things better and to make things cheaper as well. It is competition what drives the economy and ourselves in it.
But is it?
There is a theory in business that can help us understand the concept of competition better. “The blue ocean and red ocean strategy”. The premise is that there are two types of competition. The first one, and most common, is the red sea strategy.
A company competing in red seas is going to compete fiercely against his competitors in a game kind of created by bought. They will compete with lower prices, bigger stuff and will always try to do the things the other company is doing slightly better. Fighting for a piece of the limited cake the market has to offer. If you win I lose mentality.
A company competing in the blue oceans. In a vast blue and abundant ocean will compete not against the other companies but instead, it will create a whole different game unique itself. This company will not be concerned with competition as it is not playing the game everyone else is playing, it is playing its own game. This is why you pay 1,000 bucks for an iPhone.
We tend to see lives in either of these two axis. Vertical or horizontal.
The vertical and horizontal axis
A person playing and thinking in the vertical axis will tend to see people as above or below him. Everything is winning or losing, but what determines whether he loses or wins is not what he is doing particularly, but in how he is doing relative to other people. He may not be great at what he is doing, he might be terrible, but if he is greater than someone, then he is doing good because he is winning, just like the red seas.
This way of thinking inevitably leads to thinking of everyone in your life as competitors. When you think about your friends and think about how one is more successful than you, you no longer think about him as your friend and someone that can help you and aid you but you think of him as your competitor, someone you have to win over. You could even say he even becomes your enemy.
If you are thinking vertically, the world will become a dangerous and perilous place to be in, a place where everyone is out there to get you. Win or lose.
You are pretty unique, and you should unabashedly so. That is one of the main characteristics of the human being, not one human being is the same as the other. Twins may look the same outside but each has its own aspirations and inclinations inside. It is a fundamental human characteristic. This is due to our sexual nature, but that topic’s for another occasion.
The point of the matter is that, just like in the blue oceans, you are perfectly suited to create a game of your own.
When you think horizontally you don’t think about people being above or below you. In a horizontal axis you can go anywhere you want, in fact, you should go anywhere you want.
In this axis your focus is your progress. The focus on becoming your ideal self. A self that no one can even wish to match because no one can be you.
Instead of trying to make something just as good or slightly better as someone else is doing it you will be concentrated in the actual ideal, where progress is limitless. Instead of trying to look good in the eyes of other people, which is the aim of anyone competing, you will actually be doing what’s needed for greatness.
This type of greatness is the greatness Epictetus speaks of.
Realize that people don’t care that much about you
We live our lives thinking that everyone is watching us and thinking about us all the time.
But, honestly, you know deep down that this is not the case. In fact, nobody cares that much. In your movie, you are the star, but you have to realize that everyone is the protagonist of their movies in their own lives. Everyone is too busy thinking about themselves and how they look in the eyes of others to be concerned about how you look or what you are doing with your life.
Once you realize this you will start thinking less about how you look on the eyes of other people and more on how they look at themselves.
This can either be depressing or liberating.
I think it is liberating, it is liberating because you are free to do whatever you want. But one thing is needed, courage, the courage to be disliked. You cannot be really free if you are not willing to be disliked. That is the cost of freedom.
If you let others decide what you need to do with your life, you are not really free. In competition, this is precisely what you are doing, you are striving for other people approval and to see you as the winner. A game you will never win. Better to invent your own game, no one can beat you there.
Why concern yourself with competing and seeing everyone as your enemy when you can concentrate on doing as best as you can with what you have and instead see everyone as potential helpers in your unique adventure?
Realize that you do are in the Olympic Games of your life, but there is only one competitor and that is yourself against yourself.
Get busy living, but more than that, enjoy. No need to have a bad time unnecessarily.
Want to read some more: Distraction and lack of time
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Originally published at http://stoicanswers.com on May 1, 2019.