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What Is Competitive Greatness and Why It’s Important for Success!

Updated: Mar 31, 2022


I was sitting in the airport listening to Inky Johnson’s podcast, “Serendipity.” In this particular episode, he and his co-host talked about a multitude of things, but one part that caught my attention was the idea of “competitive greatness.” They defined competitive greatness as a series of habits that are cultivated by your life experiences. Competitive greatness is developed by competing in every situation that life throws at you; it’s easy to compete when life is good, but what happens when the dream is deferred and no longer on your timeline?

When I entered the workforce at the young age of 23, I was unfamiliar with personality tests and other mechanisms that help you identify personality styles based on a series of questions. Once I transitioned into education and took on leadership positions, I was introduced to these tests. The organizations I worked for used these tests to help leaders become more self-aware of their personalities and how that could impact how they lead others. One reoccurring theme in my results was the trait of being competitive.

As a child, being competitive was instilled in me from an early age. I vividly remember watching my uncle compete in pick-up basketball games with his friends on the weekend and then carrying that competitive spirit over into his business as a commercial insurance broker. I can recall having conversations about how he had to ensure that his business was ten times better than his counterparts because of the color of his skin.

As I reflect on my life experiences, I think about being the only black kid on an all-white baseball team and having to prove my worth and my ability to play the sport that had been dominated by white kids for so long. I think about everything from being cut from the freshmen basketball team to working my butt off the following summer in order for me to make the sophomore basketball team; from working at one of the world’s largest financial institutions as a personal banker with an undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice; from going to a small university in Chicago while my peers graduated from Ivy League and other prestigious universities; to a host of other life experiences from which my competitive greatness was cultivated…

I realized that I have had a love/hate relationship with competitive greatness. In the podcast, the hosts mentioned that often we base our level of greatness on what others have accomplished! In an era where we have access to the lives of celebrities and other people we admire at the click of a button via social media, it’s hard not to compare ourselves to other people we deem successful or financially stable. We look at those people who seem to believe that they have “it” all together.

“It” can be synonymous with the big house, the picture-perfect family, the big bank account, the successful business, the fancy car, or whatever material thing you deem measures success. Too often, we fall in love with the “it” and not the journey. Throughout my life, I have come to appreciate the journey — it hasn’t been easy, but my competitive greatness keeps me going. The beautiful part of the journey is our ability to cultivate and develop our competitive greatness at our own pace. Along the way, we will be faced with challenges that will produce both wins and losses. The wins are cool, but the losses are when we learn and truly get better. We have to eliminate the fear of failure if we want to achieve our ultimate level of greatness!

As a 10-year urban educator, I have had many losses in my journey to becoming a principal. I have been overlooked for positions, promised positions that never came to fruition, received feedback on areas in which I needed to improve, but was denied the opportunities to actually practice and develop those skills, along with a host of other experiences that almost broke my spirit and diminished my passion for education. It was in those moments that my competitive greatness and the desire to win didn’t allow me to quit…

Through these experiences, I’ve had to learn that denial is not detrimental. Denial will have you questioning your skill, your belonging, and will allow self-sabotage to creep into your mind. It’s these times that I think about what my former pastor would say, “What God has for you, won’t pass you by.”

Here is what I learned:

  1. Along your journey you will be faced with adversity; the key to developing your competitive greatness will be how you approach those moments of adversity! Adversity is a part of life and you will be tested continuously with adversity, if you don’t learn from the adversities and adjust how you approach them.

  2. You can either fold or you can attack adversity with the same ferocity you do when life is good. Attacking adversity, signals to the universe that you're ready for the prosperity that has been promised to you.

  3. Comparison is the thief of all JOY. Stay in your lane and run your race! Once you put the blinders on and focus on your own personal goals, you stop comparing yourself to other people.

I am grateful I never gave up and that competitive greatness has helped me get to where I am today.

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