He who conquers others is strong; He who conquers himself is mighty. – Lao Tzu
Since the dawn of humanity there have been invasions. Towns, cities, countries were pillaged and raided. There have been wars and rivalries and conflicts between nations since there were nations. Much like the adage that the first race happened the moment the second car was built.
As humans, we always are looking to gain power and influence. It’s not always through violence, we also see this in sports and other competitive activities where we are working to be better than someone else. Maybe even, the best.
However, this poses a unique challenge in that there will always be someone better at something. There will always be someone bigger, stronger, faster, smarter, or tougher. If they’re not alive today, they might be alive in 10 years. This is why records are constantly being beaten and new heights are always being reached by humanity. There is always another step.
This leaves us with a predicament. In some ways we remain driven to excel because we always have another challenge to overcome. Another foe, another goal to reach. This keeps us on a path of progress and growth which serves us in many ways.
The other possibility is that we become frustrated if we tie our identity to that of domination. When we must be the smartest or most productive, we put ourselves into a perpetual cycle of comparison. We are always competing with the person next to us because we need to win in order to feel good about ourselves.
This is a fragile state of existence because, as we’ve determined, we cannot always win. And if we are always winning today, we may not always be winning in five years.
So, what happens in five years? For many, it leads to depression. A professional athlete may be at the top of her game for a decade, but if she’s not developed her own sense of self worth independent of standing atop the podium, she will feel conflicted and lost when she is no longer capable of the same level of performance.
The same goes for business people, racecar drivers, scholars, or anyone else with a performance based identity.
To achieve true strength and resilience, we must first conquer ourselves. We must face our own challenges, demons, and shortcomings. We must practice and build habits that serve us. We must recognize and internalize our own value as human beings that has nothing to do with how we look, how we perform, or how much money we make.
Then, and only then, will we obtain real power. That is when we no longer feel the need to raid, or pillage, or constantly compete – because we have nothing more to prove.
Consistent progress is something we should all strive for. It’s fun, and challenges us to reach new heights in our endeavors. But we must never allow our standing on the leaderboard to define us as human beings, this is an important separation to make along the way.
Each morning when you look in the mirror, you see the only person you ever truly compete with. If your focus lies with one-upping THAT person every single day, you can never lose.