“A flower doesn’t think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.” – Zen Shin
When we’re worried about happenings outside the boundaries of our own organizations, it detracts from our focus on what’s important and what’s needed to show up and do the work that is ours to do. Jerry has a saying that he saves for entrepreneurs who are obsessively concerned about their competitors, and similarly, managers distracted by other’s workloads. “Swim in your own lane,” he says like a stern guy from Brooklyn. (In a similar vein, he also has a metaphor involving urinal etiquette which you’ll have to hear from the man himself since I’d like this email to make it to your inboxes.)
Swim in your own lane. Look ahead, take up your space, and worry not so much what the others are doing outside your lane marker. Doing so helps us distinguish the noise from the signal: What do we need to pay attention to? What’s the work in front of us? What do we know about what we know about? What about the known unknowns and unknown unknowns? What are we sensing from our environments, from our data? What is emergent? What is our next move from here?
In this podcast conversation, Jerry speaks with athlete and entrepreneur Jeremy Bloom about what it means to be discerning of what is signal versus all the noise, and what’s at stake for the outcomes when you focus on what you can control. “You can affect what’s 6 inches in front of your nose,” Bloom says as he pulls this wisdom from his championship ski racing days. Yet, this wisdom applies to entrepreneurs as well.
In coaching, one of the facts that’s always interesting to share with clients is that you can control two things in life: your choices and your actions. That’s it. In some ways, that should be relieving. In many ways, for some of us, it’s not so much relieving as it is anxiety-producing. Learning how to manage that space for ourselves is key to our own performance. How can we find what’s six inches in front of us?
What happens where spirit meets bone, where our insides meet the world at the edges of our meatsuit is where things get interesting. When you focus your attention there, what happens for you?
The metric that matters in life is your personal best. Being a better version of yourself than you were yesterday, or last month, or than you were in the last five years is growth. In your organization, what matters is your personal best in the collective sense: Month over month, year over year growth, and tracking whatever metrics and data give you the visibility you need to understand the drivers of your business. If a competitor’s multibillion-dollar valuation has captured your attention like fly tape, then you’re swimming in the wrong lane.
As Michael Phelps notes: “I can only control my own performance. If I do my best, then I can feel good at the end of the day.”
Comparison is the thief of joy, after all.