It was 7 am at the gym.
I looked over to the guy next to me, splayed out, cooling down on a Yoga mat.
I see him there every day. I don’t know him personally, but just last week, the news publication I work for ran a story with his photo next to the headline. He’s an innovator who just earned a spot in the national spotlight.
I was instantly curious: What does a guy like this – a smart, almost famous, cutting-edge-kind-of-dude – have in his headphones while finishing a workout?
Kendrick Lamar? The Rolling Stones? Tchaikovsky?
I let my eyes wander ever so slightly towards his phone screen to try and catch a glimpse.
This guy appeared to be listening to a TED Talk.
As Taylor Swift blared in my ears, I felt myself get a little deflated.
Is that what it takes? I thought. To be a next-level presence do I have to give up my 500th listen of “Endgame” and my full pursuit to learn all of Ed Sheeran’s singing part and start YouTubing more TED Talks? Does succeeding mean NEVER taking a rest?
The comparison is quicksand. Beautiful, attractive, almost actual. It appears to be solid.
Other things that keep you from succeeding are obvious. Distraction, apathy, being too sensitive – these all exist in different environments – the forest of friends and family obligations, the urban smog malaise of addictive creature comfort, the unrealistic terrarium of echo chambering and self-fulfilled prophecy.
But the comparison is camouflaged inside the sparse, tough desert that is essentially final travel for those few who truly succeed. When you get close to the goal it only seems natural to look to the guy next to you as a guidepost.
And THAT is how you find yourself at the gym, snooping on the dude doing crunches one mat over and feeling like a failure.
But it is important to resist this temptation to equate yourself to the other guy.
First – we are all built differently. And we all release and relax in different ways. This guy’s Taylor Swift may be indulgently re-watching LOST on weeknights or reading Michael Connelly detective novels.
Second – and more importantly – he is not the competition. I am. The lazier, slower, past me is the only person that I should be outperforming.
I remember someone saying this the first time I ran a 5K:
“No matter when you finish, you’re gonna beat the guy who stayed home in bed.”
And this morning, I got up and went to the gym.
Tomorrow and the next day, I am going to do it again.
And one of these days, I may even YouTube a Ted Talk while I am there.
How’s that for an Endgame?