Who am I Really Competing Against?

"No matter how hard I work, I feel like I'm not winning. I want to believe that if I can just make this startup more successful that will make me feel great and solve my problems. But what if I feel just as behind no matter what I do?"

October 4th, 2023   |    By: Wil Schroter

What if we're all competing in a game we can't actually win?

That's not because our startups aren't good enough or that some evil competitor will ruin us. It's because before we even get out of bed in the morning, we've already set ourselves up to fail by tirelessly running a gauntlet where we're guaranteed to lose every time.

Our mistake was setting ourselves up to compete with aspects of our Founder life that we can't actually win at in the first place. Our perception of ourselves is supposed to be our greatest asset, but in fact, it tends to be our greatest weakness because we are constantly moving the goalposts on ourselves.

Our Peers

It's easy to use our own peers as a benchmark for our own success. When I get into a room full of Founders who begin sharing their updates, I can automatically see every other Founder in the room comparing someone else's success (or failure) to their own. It's hard not to because that's our frame of reference for our own world.

The problem with competing with our peers, whether we intend to or not, is that their success or failure actually doesn't affect our own performance. If all of my friends get 10x richer or 10x poorer, it doesn't change my path whatsoever.

That's because we're not really competing with our peers over something material, we're competing with them over a perception of ourselves. That perception is also constantly subject to change, which means the moment we sail past our peers, we're just going to find new ones that we're once again "inferior" to.

Our Safety

Whether we realize it or not, we're often competing against our own "safety" in the form of our emotional, financial, and sometimes physical well-being. Being a Founder is a literal stress test for safety since nearly everything we do strains the limits of anything that would make us feel safe.

"Oh, so you want to work at a job that drains your savings instead of pays you, has no clear indication if you're ever doing it properly, accounts for all of your time, and makes you feel like crap? Well, my friend, the startup life is just what you're looking for!"

Sound familiar? That's because it's precisely what we signed up for, and every day that goes by, our safety is being challenged. We're competing with the goal of getting to safety, whether it's consistently making payroll or, heaven forbid, paying ourselves at all.

Our Ego

Even if we strip out all the external factors, like our peers and our startup, we wake up every day competing with our own ego. That feeling we get when we know we could have done better, based on almost zero proof, but we feel like shit anyway because we didn't.

Our ego is the ultimate competitive paradox. It's nearly impossible to beat — because it's us, and yet the only way to beat it is of our own cognition. We have to be willing to let our ego "go" in order to gain control of it, which, if you've met nearly any Founder (this author included), well, good luck with that.

At the end of the day, we're all really competing against ourselves. The big, evil competitor isn't the company across town that just got funded; it's the person we look at in the mirror every day who is our most relentless critic.

In Case You Missed It

Why No One Tells Founders "It's over, move on." (podcast) No one ever actually tells Founders it’s okay to quit. No one except other Founders, of course.

The Curse of the 37-Year-Old Founder Let's talk about the dues founders pay for neglecting their health. Pushing yourself too much, putting your body through so much pressure, and then ignoring the warning signs as they come, you’re unconsciously trading your life for the success of your company.

Retiring Early is a Broken Concept Retiring isn't really our end goal, so we shouldn't aspire to it. What we really want is to shape our life the way we want it to be.

About the Author

Wil Schroter

Wil Schroter is the Founder + CEO @ Startups.com, a startup platform that includes BizplanClarity, Fundable, Launchrock, and Zirtual. He started his first company at age 19 which grew to over $700 million in billings within 5 years (despite his involvement). After that he launched 8 more companies, the last 3 venture backed, to refine his learning of what not to do. He's a seasoned expert at starting companies and a total amateur at everything else.

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