I like to keep an eye on the competition.
It’s not so much that I want to be better than someone else, it’s that I want to be better than I am. I’m competitive by nature, and I’ve found that just knowing what others are up to makes me rise to the occasion—regardless of what the occasion is.
Take learning to play the flute: I had weekly lessons during the school year, and I was mediocre at best. My instructor had the patience of a saint, listening to me not improve over a nine month period. She collected money from my parents and showed up each week. (Now I’m starting to understand where she found the patience of a saint!)
During one summer, I went to my best friend’s house. I arrived early, during her French horn lesson, and I listened to her play. So. Much. Better than I was. Surprisingly, that was the motivation I needed to practice. I spent the rest of the summer getting up to snuff, and when my instructor returned, she was shocked at the transformation. From then on, I was one of her star pupils. I even anchored the annual recital.
I find myself spying on the competition—watching them without telling them their being watched is spying, right?—and taking away that push to make myself better. I took away contests from one author, newsletter tips from another. Twitter tips from a third. Not because they gave me advice, but because I stalked them followed them and watched what they did.
What it comes down to is that some people do things better than I do, which makes me work harder to be the better than I am.
What about you? Ever spy on the competition to help raise your own bar of excellence?