People have a remarkable capacity for putting off the inevitable and making life way harder than it has to be.
I’m not talking about procrastinating. Everyone procrastinates; it’s not that big a deal. I’m talking about creating enormous 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.
Want to know why people aren’t in better shape? 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. No wonder those hurdles seem painfully insurmountable. So what do they do? They go for easy miracle diets that never work or do nothing at all.
Truth is, getting in 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 a deal. But we make it one. That’s the problem.
We 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 others 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?
Related: Competition = Life
I’ll tell you why we can’t just get along. Because that’s not how it works. Like it or not competition is real. Ever since we emerged from the primordial soup of ancient planet Earth, we’ve been competing. Without competition there would be no natural selection. There would be no evolution. And there would be no human race.
Today we compete for position and power. We compete for jobs, raises, promotions, benefits, choice projects, mindshare and budget. We compete for attention. And yes, we even compete for our mates. You name it, we compete for it. Of course some of us do get along. On a good day.
Everyone can’t be a winner. Contrary to all the feel-good BS you read these days, markets are more or less zero-sum games. There are a finite number of customers and money to spend. Markets do generally 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, like getting in shape, 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, competition will make you stronger.
Competition creates winners and success stories. It builds strong personalities, resilience, determination, a sense of humor and humility. It builds high-performing executives and business leaders.
Competition also leads to innovation and advances in technology. Competition is why 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 by creating ridiculous hurdles for yourself and making believe that competition is the big bad boogeyman that hurts the other guy and makes you a bad person.
The irony is, if you choose 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.
Image credit 20th Century Fox
A version of this originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.