Life is hard for everyone. Stories like this one by former NBA player Darius Miles demonstrate that even for the highest-profile in society, life is hard. Then why make it harder by living someone else’s life?

In a great post, Nick Maggiulli at Of Dollars and Data, talks about why it is that we are not in competition with anyone else. The only person we are competing with is ourselves. Nick writes:

If you give something your all, what does it matter what anyone else does? Once you have put forth your best effort, let the chips fall where they may. The outcome is out of your hands now.

So much of the drama in our lives is driven by our perception of other people’s expectations of us. We feel the need to compete with people, at work or in our neighborhood. This invisible competition leads to behavior and patterns, like overspending, that put us in a precarious situation. The recent example of the Mega Millions lottery shows how easily we are caught up in public frenzies.

In investing, the idea of competition is inherent in the business. Professional money managers are constantly being judged on their performance, even over time periods where noise dominates signal. For individual investors all that matters is what your portfolio is doing and how it serves your aspirations.* Would it be nice if all your investments outperformed their relevant benchmarks? Sure, but that is irrelevant, unless is moves you closer to your ultimate goal.

One of the challenges for financial planning is goal-setting. Some goals are concrete: buying a house, sending kids to college. Other goals, like living a fulfilling life in retirement are much harder to define and often change over time. This is why focusing on simply getting better makes sense that competing against some nameless, faceless entity. We can’t always win, but we can try to improve. Nick again writes:

(Y)our competition is only there to inspire you to become a better version of yourself.  When you focus on your own development, you will see that you had no competition all along.

Josh Brown last week wrote a retrospective on his first ten years of investment blogging at The Reformed Broker. One of the key takeaways from that post is that Josh’s success is not only due to his own skill and hard work. It is also a function of the growth and maturation of the investment blogosphere. Josh championed other bloggers over the past decade and in turn his voice was amplified by a thriving ecosystem.

Competing against people who don’t even know you exist, or fighting the voice in your head telling you aren’t good enough, is a recipe for unhappiness. Living your own life on your own terms isn’t easy, but then again, what is the alternative? As Seth Godin writes in a post entitled “The problem with people is that they outnumber you“:

It doesn’t make any sense to spend your life proving them wrong, it’s a losing battle.

Far more effective is the endless work of building connection, forming alliances and finding the very best you can in those you engage with.

There’s no wrong, no right. There’s only progress. Because you are never done being you.

*There is a well-developed literature, including mine, talking about the advantages that individual investors have relative to professional investors. See: me, Ben Carlson, George Sisti and Gatis Roze.

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