As young athletes, we frequently spend all our time trying to be “better than” others. We train hard to get better times. We race hard to get better places. We take home trophies or medals if we’re lucky. Those serve as reminders that on some days and in some way, we can truly are “better than” others. That’s the nature of competition.
Yet there are other motivations in this athletic life as well. On the long road to self-actualization, many athletes realize their pursuits have the potential to make them “better for” the work they put in. Better for the lessons learned from training and competing, and triumphs and failures.
I’ll admit that at some points in life, I thought myself better than others for being a pretty good athlete. The problem with that approach to life is that a “better than” attitude can be extremely offputting. We’ve all known a cocky jock who thinks he or she is better than everyone.
Some of these we perhaps admire but others we just grow to despise. Those are the jerks who appear ungrateful for their gifts. At that point, they are neither “better than” or “better for” their supposed talents.
By contrast, when we meet or hear about exceptional athletes whose talents are maximized through hard work, and whose reputations are burnished through service to others, share their lives or wealth in humble ways, we almost marvel that it’s possible.
As for the rest of us who seek to achieve at more modest levels, it is helpful to understand there are times when its a healthy thing trying to be “better than” others. That’s why we enter events and race, to measure ourselves against fellow competitors and attempt to meet or surpass our goals.
But there are times when going out to do events to become “better for” the experience is just as important. Those are some of the reasons why people choose events and races dedicated to raising money or charities. Others become race pacers to give back to the support. And what a thrill helping others achieve their goals! Those are some great “better for” moments in this life.
By contrast, there are also moments when triumph just isn’t part of the picture. When we DNF a race that was supposed to go great (because our training was spot on) it’s frustrating to give in and walk off the course. Yet sometimes we’re “better for” the effort when we learn from it. We are also “better for” the experience when we learn how to transfer the will to overcome difficulties in many aspects of life.
It’s nice to know that we actually have two great pools of motivation waiting for us out there if we need them. Whether you set out on a given day to be “better than” or to become “better for” is up to you. Just be grateful for the opportunity in either case, and life will be much more fulfilling.