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In the Golden Globe-winning show 3rd Rock From the Sun, alien high commander Dick Solomon asks an insightful question about humans: “Why do they call themselves the human race? Do they think someone is going to win?”

Although this is a humorous quote, it contains an uncomfortable amount of truth. As human beings, we frequently try to live up to ideals that we believe are important. We often act like we are “racing” with other people to reach these ideals. We each want to be the most attractive, most affluent, most intelligent.

This leads to some odd behavior, such as hating successful people. Unfortunately, no one is immune to it. In fact, I’m often a perfect specimen of this behavior.

One of my life goals is to stay healthy and exercise regularly. Today, I was at the gym, and I had a frustrating experience. I was using a bench press, and I was pleased to find that I was able to add twenty pounds to the amount I was able to bench. At least, I was pleased until I looked over and realized that the guy at the bench next to mine was benching over twice as much as I was!

I immediately began thinking negative thoughts about him in my head. “That jerk thinks he’s so great because he can lift a ton of weight,” I thought. Of course, that was ridiculous. I had absolutely no reason to believe that he was a jerk, that he thought he was so great, or that I was a better person than him. I simply hated him because he was more successful than I was. (If anyone was being a jerk in this situation, it was me.)

Contrast this with the way I handled the same situation when I was just beginning to work out. The guy next to me was lifting huge amounts of weight, and was in great shape. I was new to bench pressing, and so I walked up and asked him, “hey, if you don’t mind me asking, how do you lift that much weight?”

He smiled, happy to receive the compliment. He introduced himself as Alex, and launched in to an explanation of the workout techniques he used regularly. To my surprise, he was over fifty years old (I had estimated he was about forty). Alex explained that in his late forties he was in very bad shape, with poor health and nutrition. He decided to do something about it, and began working out and eating more fruits and vegetables. After months of this life change, he found that he was starting to feel better and better. He lost weight and began to get more toned.

Alex shared all his secrets with me, and we became friends. Whenever I see Alex at the gym, I say hello and ask how his family is doing. People like Alex make my trips to the gym more enjoyable.

This is why I believe it’s important not to judge people too quickly (like I did today). I wish I had treated the situation today like I did the one with Alex. Walking up and saying, “hey, if you don’t mind me asking, how do you lift that much weight?” could have changed my entire perspective on “that jerk who can lift more weight than me”.

Talking to Alex made a world of difference:

  • I got some great tips that have helped me triple my effectiveness in reaching my fitness goals.
  • I made a new “gym buddy”, someone to share a smile and a laugh with while working out.
  • I learned that he was an extremely nice guy who had worked hard for the success he had. He deserved it.

That’s the mentality I want to use when I see successful people. Even if I don’t talk to them and ask the secret of their success, I want to begin with the assumption that they are nice people who deserve what they have. I want to have an appropriate level of humility in the way I approach other people. And I want to leverage successful people for inspiration, not competition. Whether it’s at the gym, in a business venture, or anywhere else, positive feelings toward successful people can get us a long way (not to mention remove the strain of running in “the human race”).

I have determined I will have a different mentality next time I meet someone successful.

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