I have to admit:  I am struggling – or, have been struggling for a long time – with something I have observed in our society.

Some seem to view life, or aspects of life, as a competition.

What do I mean by this?  Here are some examples:

  • CEOs negotiating like gladiators to have another million added to their base salary.
  • World-class sprinters engineering every aspect of their lives to cut another one or two hundredths of a second from their 100 meter time.
  • Corporate boards voting to cut 10% of their workforce to get a 2% gain on their stock price (and ostensibly be able to upgrade to a larger yacht).

Or, bringing it back down to earth, how about these:

  • Normal people maxing out the credit cards to take that trip to Paris, so that they can post their Eiffel Tower selfies on Facebook or Instagram (and get those “likes”).
  • Normal people choosing the BMW 3-series instead of the Accord, expecting the admiration of their fellow commuters.
  • Normal people doing a Tough Mudder or Spartan Race just to show others their accomplishments.
  • Normal people putting on a brave face and acting like everything’s great, when, in reality, things are falling apart.

Guiltily, I have engaged in some of this myself.  My 80-meter yacht just wasn’t spacious enough for my summers on the Riviera…

Cheekiness aside, I’ll admit that I often get caught up in the competitive mindset in some way.  Listening to a Tim Ferris podcast with Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, this morning, I felt both envy toward someone able to interview one of the most powerful people in business and the desire to become a powerful CEO myself.  From that envy and desire, I shifted toward thoughts of “How can I make that happen for myself?”

But then one word stopped me in my tracks:  Why?

Why was it important for me to become a CEO?  Or be associated with one?  Sure, some extra cash might be nice.  The recognition would definitely feed my ego.  Oh, and it would move me up the invisible socioeconomic rankings.

It’s the competitive nature.  I apparently want to be seen as better than others, which probably translates to wanting to be seen as better than I currently see myself.


If I look at that previous sentence, it sounds like I somehow see myself as inadequate as I currently am.

Rephrased:  I am inadequate.

If I follow that line of thinking, how do I go from being inadequate to adequate (or more than adequate)?  Hmmm, let’s ask society what its measurement for adequacy or, perhaps legitimacy, is:

  • Recognition – At work, in the media, how many Instagram followers you have…
  • Achievement – A promotion, an award, the completion of something “important”…
  • Power – how much control you have over a department, company, country…
  • Money (or material possessions)

There may be more, but this is enough for our purposes.

Here’s the problem:  There’s no benchmark, no line we must cross to go from inadequacy to adequacy.  What’s the right dollar amount? $5?  $5 million?  $5 billion?  Recognition and achievement fade, so there’s always the next achievement to push toward, or more that must be done to stay recognized.  Power is always either increasing or decreasing, depending on your words and actions.

I hinted at another problem with this early on, with the job cuts:  Usually, our push toward increased legitimacy comes with collateral damage.

  • More time at work to increase pay, power, or recognition means less time with our family and friends.
  • Making tough choices for more money can have ripple (or tsunami-like) effects on others.  Remember the Great Recession?  What’s worse, the collateral damage often afflicts others who aren’t competing or have no means to compete.
  • Striving toward achievements of many kinds can be damaging emotionally if we tie our self-image to them – both from failure to hit that achievement, and from the (quick) fading of that achievement.

What’s worse, with so many others striving for the same thing, there are forces outside our control that may keep us from that thing that makes us adequate.  There can only be one “#1”, right?

Why would we are cause all this damage by striving for an unreachable target?  Why, because we see everyone else doing it!

Think about what you see in the media, what you see others around you doing.  They’re all pursuing bigger and better in some way.  They may even be purposely pursuing less in one area out of a desire to get more in another (false modesty).  When this concept is reinforced for us all day, every day, it’s extremely hard not to get sucked in.

So, what’s the answer?  Reframe adequacy.

What does it mean to be adequate?  If it’s not all those cultural markers of success, what is it?

I humbly submit my theory (ok, this is something stated by many people over the millennia and is nowhere near original, but I think it’s right on):  We are all adequate, sufficient, legitimate as we are.

We don’t need to do anything else in order to be “enough”.  We already are.

Think about what that would mean for you, if you knew that the raise you’re pursuing isn’t necessary for you to be enough.  If you knew that people already loved you just as you are.  If you knew you could give of yourself instead of stepping on others on your way up the ladder.

What would you do differently?

This would be a great place for a “mic drop”, but let me take it one step further.  Let’s all take whatever steps we can handle to make shifts – radical or subtle – in our lives to move toward this ideal:

  • Maybe less time with media?
  • Maybe time with your thoughts looking at why you think you’re inadequate, and ways to shift?
  • Maybe time volunteering, helping others in true need?

(Mic drop.)