It wasn’t just another competition for Katie Ledecky. It was her dream competition. Rio 2016 Olympics was not the time to compete against other swimmers but against herself. Katie already held the world record for completing the 400-meter freestyle in 3 minutes 58.37 seconds and she wanted to top that! She had set 11 world records since 2012 and had been preparing to beat her own record for 3 years. While she warmed up to take a dive into the swimming pool, her focus was not on other competitors but on that singular person she must beat- herself. When she finished the race, she turned to look at the scoreboard and she saw 3 minutes 56.46. She had beaten her own record by 2 seconds!
If Katie Ledecky’s goal was to compete against other swimmers, all she had to do was complete the race in 4.00 minutes and she would have still won the gold medal. Jazz Carlin won the silver medal in 4 minutes 01.23 seconds and Leah Smith came third with 4 minutes 01.92 seconds. But would it have been Katie’s best performance? Sometimes, coming first is not as important as doing the very best we can do. Katie went on to win 5 gold medals at Rio 2016.
Competition is born out of the need to come out victorious over opponents. Human beings seem to be naturally inclined to compete. At childhood, competition ranges from getting the attention parents to choosing which toy to play with. Of course, it becomes more complex at adulthood as we compete for academic grades, business contracts or even the person to marry. While competition in itself is not bad and we have been told by professionals that it brings out the best in us, we mustn’t lose sight of our ultimate competitor- ourselves.
Imagine that a boy- let’s call him Billy- is in a class of 20 students and he scores 30% in a class test. Billy scores the highest because the next student to him scores 20%. In actual fact, he is the best among failures because 30% is not a pass mark. He can choose to focus on the 30% behind him or the 70% ahead of him. Looking backwards makes him “think” he is the best but looking forward makes him see the room for improvement. Competition with other people is only useful when they are ahead of you because they may motivate you but when you surpass them, you better focus inward. Make yourself your competition and you will never stop growing. Of course, this only works if you are the kind that never settles for mediocrity.