By Rob Shaul, Founder
Years ago when I first left the service, I moved to a small town in my home state of Wyoming and started a newspaper.
It’s not like I hired 10 reporters, bought a printing press, and opened a big office. No … this was a true “bootstrap” story – I began in a spare bedroom, with one computer and one laser printer. I had no journalism experience, absolutely no desktop publishing experience, no one to sell ads, no business experience, etc.
I was a green 27-year-old and had a wife and two kids to support.
Every week I had to drive 90 miles to another town to get the newspaper printed, then I had to personally stuff inserts, stick-on mailing labels, fill newspaper machines – the classic 1-man small business operation. We went to press on Wednesdays, and every Tuesday for ten years was an all-nighter.
I wasn’t the only game in town. The old newspaper in the community had been around nearly 100 years and was a well-oiled machine. Its staff laughed and yawned at my first few weekly efforts, and I was determined to crush them.
I was a hard worker and quick learner, and within 3 years had taken the government ads from my older competition, and at 5 years, bought them outright. It was a true “minnow who swallowed the whale” story.
But things weren’t gravy. The old newspaper had been losing money hand over fist, and I had to borrow nearly $400,000 at 11% interested from the local bank, to make the purchase. When I combined the newspapers, I had to let several staff members go.
I lived in the office, literally, for two years, barely making payroll each week, and in general, was terrified all the time.
About 6 months after I’d purchased the old newspaper and combined efforts, some of the laid-off staff decided to start their own newspaper!
Unlike before, when I was the minnow, now I was the whale – with the burden of a hefty loan payment due monthly, a bigger staff, office rent, etc.
The night I heard the news about the new newspaper, I didn’t sleep.
I laid down and tossed and turned, worried, scared; full of self-pity.
At 4 am or so I finally gave in, got out of bed, took a shower, brewed up some nasty Folgers, and sat down at my desk, exhausted.
Then something remarkable happened. Somewhere from inside me – a wiser voice crawled up and whispered, “Good for them” about my new competitors.
That voice and those words changed everything.
Gone immediately was my scowl, replaced by a soft, but, ironic smile. Yes …. “Good for them,” I repeated, sincerely wishing my new competitors the best of luck, knowing first hand what it took to start from scratch.
All that bitter effort and angry emotion were gone. “Good for them” gave me the mental space to realize the best thing always for me to do, no matter the outside distraction, was focus on what I could control, and have faith that things would work out.
Me and my new competitors competed back and forth for 5 years before I left the business. I can honestly report that at least for me, it was a healthy competition.
That soft “Good for them” changed my life for the better back then, and has continued to work its wonders in the years since when I’ve found myself in some manufactured pissing contest with another company or individual over this or that issue.
Competition, no matter the area of life, can be healthy. But being over competitive can easily devolve to vindictive small-minded thinking, pettiness, and self-pity. It can become a huge distraction from what you can control and improve.
Whenever I feel this darkness descending over me I reach for “Good for them” and it magically lights the way out. Soon I’m back to working on my own responsibilities, and not worrying about what others are doing.
There’s a scene in the movie “Seven Years in Tibet” where Brad Pitt’s character, Heinrich, is upset because his best friend got the girl, and he didn’t. The girl sees Heinrich is upset, and confronts him, “A friend’s good fortune is a blessing” she says.
I’d offer too, that a competitor’s good fortune is also a blessing, and sincerely saying to yourself, “Good for them” can change your life, as it did mine.
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