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Compete Against Standards, Not People

One day in basketball practice in college, our coach stopped our live scrimmage and called us all in to huddle. He wasn't happy with me.

He was tired of telling me the same things, he said. I TOLD you to stop dribbling the ball after you grab rebounds -- you need to pass the ball to one of our guards! I was officially a forward-center on the team due to our lack of size; our guards sucked and could barely get the ball over half court during games. So I had decided to take matters into my own hands. The coach wasn't having any more of that, though.

Our coach related a quick story that he'd gotten from a visit with another coach who had a sign on his office door that said, "This is NOT Burger King: You CANNOT have it your way."

"You cannot have it your way, Dre. And with that said, thank you for your time today!"

That was the end of my college basketball career.

Over the next 24 hours, after replaying everything that had happened in my mind, I thought about the new realities of my playing career. I was only a junior, and the coach was in his first year -- which meant I couldn't hope for his firing and a new coach to replace him. I was stuck at school, not on the basketball team, watching a bunch of guys whom I knew I was better than.

But, like I tell players these days all the time, saying or thinking you're better and proving you're better are two different things. If they're on the team right now, Dre, and you're not, they're better than you right now. I had to face that reality.

But I couldn't accept that.

At this moment of decision, I became a pro. No -- I didn't sign with an agent. I didn't drop out of school. I didn't send film to any professional teams. I didn't register for an exposure camp. What I did at that moment was make the decision that I had to surpass everyone who'd remained in that gym the day I got kicked out. As Tony Robbins says, it wasn't a should, it was a must. I had, without knowing it, set a standard for myself. A standard is not a maybe. A standard is not something you do when the time and circumstances are right. A standard is a decision that creates circumstances.

The rest of the story is still writing itself.


"Shoulds" are the things we talk about doing that we might do when they're convenient, if we ever have the time or the money or we ever remember to get around to it. We all have lots of these. I should get my car washed. I should do an extra ten minutes on the treadmill. I should call my mother more often. Shoulds rarely come to fruition. You can probably think of some you've said to yourself in the last 24 hours.

Musts are our standards. Musts are the things we absolutely have to do -- there are no maybes; we don't accept them not happening. Circumstances don't matter when it comes to musts; we make our own circumstances or plow through the existing ones to get down what must be done. You must brush your teeth in the morning. You must make sure your kids eat dinner tonight. You must be at work or in that class on time. We all have many musts too; just look at your habits and disciplines -- those are your musts. The key to raising the quality of your life and performance in whatever it is you do, is making more things into standards -- musts -- instead of leaving them as shoulds, i.e. maybes.

If you should go for a run tomorrow morning, and you wake up to see that it's raining, you probably won't be running. If you must go for that run, however, you do it anyway and get wet. The standard overpowers the circumstance.

Standards overpower circumstance. 

What does all of this have to do with competition? Everything.

When you look at what other people are doing, and measure yourself against them -- say, you want to be the best player on your team, the best salesperson in your region -- you immediately put a ceiling on your potential. Once you're better than everyone in the group, your job is done. If they get worse, so can you, as long as you're ahead of them.

Competing against the standard of what you are capable of, and making it a must, sets you apart from the majority of people immediately, simply because most people have no standards. Most are not even aware of this principle. Most people just go with whatever is happening around them, and as long as it's accepted by their peer group (friends, coworkers, bosses), they're fine.

Look at the words Outstanding (Standing Out) and Extraordinary (Extra, on top of Ordinary): Set apart from what most people do.

Your competition is not other people, no matter how good or bad they are. Competition against other people is what most people do. Your competition is the standard of what you could do. Once you hit that standard, you raise it. Then raise it again. Then again.

How do you think Michael Jordan kept winning championships? By winning one, he'd already proved all the doubters wrong. Barkley, Malone, Stockton, Ewing, Payton had a COMBINED total of zero. What was the drive for MJ to win two championships, then 3, 4, 5, 6?


How does someone from the ghetto become a millionaire, when $30,000 a year managing a McDonald's puts him ahead of everyone from his neighborhood?

He isn't competing against them. There's a standard. A must. Not a should.

You can separate yourself from everyone else in your peer group not by suggesting, but deciding, that there is a higher standard for who you can become. Your goal then is not being better than them, but better than you were yesterday. Then doing it again tomorrow and the next day. Just 30 days of this will create such a separation between you and anyone who is around you right now you won't believe it.

But it can't be a should for you. A should can be overpowered by circumstance. A must creates the circumstance.

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