Hajime! I watch as he steps forward and can see a look of trepidation in his eyes. When we engage I notice a tension indicative of anxiety. This is the only calling card I need. Without hesitation I drop into a sacrifice throw and for once it comes off as intended. Ippon! and I am through to the final.  Any sense of glory is however short lived. With the same speed that I won my previous match I felt the feeling of defeat. I was over confident and when I pulled my opponent toward me I was playing to his script. With a perfectly executed kouchi gari I was quickly dismissed and had to settle for silver in my weight class. We shake hands and my team members congratulate and console me at the same time. After the medals we go for a well deserved feed (that’s Folly, one of my team mates in the shot).

I have found competition to be a powerful metaphor for life; a natural classification mechanism. Those who are prepared to compete understand the need to test themselves. They recognise that as hard as it is, you learn more from failure (or losses) than from wins. They accept that failure is an undeniable part of the road to success. Alternatively there are those who never compete and in the extreme never try. The fear of failure is too great. For them the idea that it is better to ‘try and fail rather than never try’ is not something to be tested.

It was at university that I became aware of this quality of competition to differentiate people. Firstly, there were the ‘could’ves’. These guys (and it was mainly guys) would always be comforted by the idea that they ‘could’ve’ done something – they just chose not to. Whether it was talking to a girl, applying for a job, or really putting their best foot forward to fight for something they wanted, this group preferred the safety of ‘could’ve’ rather than ‘did’.

The other group, the ‘give it a crack gang’, would just do it. Sure they were the ones that failed and had to pick themselves up. However they were the ones that really pushed their boundaries and knew their limits. Ironically, this group was often not the most gifted of people. They simply did not let fear stop them from what they wanted to achieve.

If I was to boil this separation down to one thing, the real issue is self-esteem. I have long been a strong advocate of the work of Nathaniel Branden and the ‘Six Pillars of Self-Esteem’. This is core to OPRA’s model of self-development. A key part of the model is learning that you are worthy of experiencing all that life has to offer and success – or failure – is not the measure of worth. I will be the first to admit that this is easier said than done. Deep self-esteem is a rare individual quality but one that is worth striving for.

Competition is such a great development ground for self-esteem. My self-worth is no greater or worse if I win or lose a match. What is most important is that I give it my all, am conscious to the reality of the result, and develop ever deeper self-acceptance.  I simply cannot do this if I’m a ‘could’ve’.

By being part of the ‘give it a crack gang’ I put both my learning and self-esteem to the test. This is not just in judo but in business. Just this week I did not achieve a goal because I didn’t give it full effort. I cannot learn from this event unless I put myself in such a position and are fully conscious to the consequences. Through self-acceptance I brush myself off and learn from my mistake. Most importantly, my self-esteem is in no way negatively affected but strengthened.

The next time you are faced with the chance to compete, I hope you too join the ‘give a crack gang’ rather than being another ‘could’ve’. The competition is not the goal but rather simply a means to an end. What is at is stake is far greater: Your ability to experience life without fear and develop deeper self-esteem in the process.