"Take your time on the test. It's not a race!" -- Every high school teacher ever
This is dumb advice. Everything is a race.
The most successful people I know wake up every day knowing that other people are working hard, and they must work harder to beat them. This is not the same as the Calvinist "work ethic" that forces you to stay in the office until 10pm answering meaningless emails, which paradoxically constrains your actual creative productivity. Whether it's entreprenurial, fitness, monetary, or any other kind of goal, a dedicated, consistent effort is more than most are willing to put forth.
These people are borderline-paranoid about other people beating them out. Out of women, out of business opportunities, out of sports competitions. Everyone else sits around, eats junk food, and watches reality TV while these individuals grind their fingers to the bone in order to be the best.
In his classic article String Theory, David Foster Wallace opines about the nature of excellence in competitive tennis. To be the best, he writes, professional tennis players adopt an almost child-like rejection from their worldview anything that doesn't involve their singular goal:
"The restrictions on his life have been, in my opinion, grotesque; and in certain ways Joyce himself is a grotesque. But the radical compression of his attention and sense of himself have allowed him to become a transcendent practitioner of an art -- something few of us get to be. They’ve allowed him to visit and test parts of his psychic reserves most of us do not even know for sure we have."
Perhaps this singular dedication is beautiful. Perhaps it is tragic. At the end of the day, though, all that matters is winning.
Though the majority of Americans are lazy fat slobs, a dedicated minority is focused on pushing their goals forward. These people are your competition. What are you going to do to be better than them? Will you put in the extra sets at the gym until your legs burn? Will you stay up late solving a programming problem on a deadline for your startup? How will you compete with those who are dedicating their lives to excellence?
Read More: I Am Broken