The Problem With Competing

DON’T COMPETE

We live in a very competitive world. We have the idea of competition engrained in us when we are very very young. We are told that we have to try harder and do things better than everyone around us so that we can succeed. In school, we have to be at the top of the class. In sports, we have to be the MVP. Winners are recognized by society and we all desire significance on some level. Indeed, the idea behind winning is that we have performed better than everyone else doing the same activity as us and we should be recognized for being outstanding. I do admit that there is some value in competition. In certain situations it causes people to try harder and push past their previous perceived limits. On another level though, competition is one of the major causes of unhappiness in our culture. The constant stress of outperforming others can lead to some just “shutting down” instead of pressing on harder. Competition also creates constant fear that we may lose our jobs, our businesses, our titles and status to others. This fear can be useful if it leads to massive action and creativity, but I think in most instances this is simply not the case. From what I have observed, the opposite is true.

Competition kills creativity. This may fly in the face of what you’ve been told since childhood, but I stand by the statement. By definition, if you are competing against someone, you are doing the same thing as them, only attempting to do it better. This is the opposite of creativity. This is a form of copying. In the business world this is easily observed. Most companies start out trying to do the exact same thing as their competition, only perhaps make it slightly better or more convenient. Sometimes, businesses are engaging in the exact same activity and a customer would have a difficult time distinguishing between them. By copying what others are doing, the creative process of building something new is shut down. So much focus is given to outperforming the other, innovation takes a back seat. However, when you look at the most respected companies throughout history, most of them are recognized for being the first to do something or drastically improving the way something is done. The fifth company to the marketplace is rarely recognized, but that is what most people do- they start companies that are copies of others, or they get a job in the marketplace without giving much thought to what special skills will set them apart and allow them to do something unique.

Our world is in dire need of innovation. We need brand new technologies and ideas to drive humanity forward, but society teaches us from an early age, especially in our primary schools and universities to compete with each other for the same prizes, as if there was one pie and we all have to fight to get a slice. The truth is that through the creative process, we can all expand the size of the pie, or create a different prize all together. Get a piece of cake instead of pie. The world is not “dog eat dog”. In fact, dogs don’t really eat each other anymore, so I think it’s time to throw at that whole phrase and start working to build something new to benefit mankind. This requires that we use our mind as much as our bodies. Humanity must continue to evolve in its thinking and use the untapped mind-power we were blessed with at birth. Yes, it’s hard to think creatively in a world with constant noise. We have information at our fingertips today, but it’s not necessarily leading to more creativity. Much of it is just more noise. Our brains cannot process all the information it receives while at the same time trying to engage in creative thinking. The noise must be quieted in order for our minds to generate new ideas. Everyone is capable of creativity so long as we are not preoccupied with keeping ahead in the proverbial rat race. Break out of the race and blaze a new path. If you are an athlete, take your focus off the competition and put it on bringing something new and phenomenal to your sport. Develop a system, rituals or technology that allows you to surpass what you were previously capable of.

Happy New Year. May the coming year be a never ending fountain of creativity and energy for you and your family. Spend time thinking about new ideas. Who knows, if you’re trying to build something new, you might just do so!

In Health,
Sean

How I Turned Pro (In 5 Steps)

On the left: How I looked seven months prior to earning my Pro Card.
On the right: Earning IFBB Pro Card at the USA Championships.

It may or may not surprise you that one of my dreams as a kid was to be a professional in sports. I think that most kids, especially boys, share this dream. There were a few problems that I realized would keep me from fulfilling this dream. The first was that I have been plagued with severe asthma since I was one year old. I spent a great deal of my childhood in and out of hospitals and on various medications for breathing. Another obstacle that stood in the way of me becoming a professional athlete was that I was a small, skinny kid. My hand-eye coordination was great, and I was fast, but I lacked the mass for football and the endurance for most other sports. In my eighth grade year, I began lifting weights pretty seriously with my father and I was able to gain significant strength. Then, in ninth grade, I made the wrestling team. This sport actually suited me well because I was short and a little stalky. Not long into the season, however, I developed severe back and hip pain. I struggled with this pain for two years, all the while popping ibuprofen like candy.

After I graduated high school, I was misdiagnosed with RA, rheumatoid arthritis. I was prescribed Percocet, Darvocet, and a steroid to keep the pain under control. I nearly became addicted to these compounds. To say that I walked around like a stoned zombie would be accurate. Not only that, I stopped lifting weights. After losing lots of muscle tissue and feeling miserable most of the time, I decided to go back and see a specialist. This time, Holly, my girlfriend at the time and now my wife, went with me. The doctor properly diagnosed with with AS, ankylosing spondylitis, a form of reactive arthritis that attacks the joints and organs. People with this specific disease actually carry a genetic marker, HLA-B27. The recommendation of the doctor was that I stop exercising and begin immunosuppressive drugs along with chemotherapy drugs to lower my immune system and reduce the pain. After hearing this news, along with seeing how sickly the people in the waiting room were, I decided to completely ignore his advice and embark on a journey of health and wellness. No drugs. Lots of weight training and exercise. I would also try to identify foods that were making me feel bad. I knew that most autoimmune diseases are at least exacerbated by poor diets. This led me to becoming a personal trainer and opening my first full-service health club at 24 years old. In 2008 I competed in my first bodybuilding competition. I won my classes as a novice bantamweight and open lightweight. I did two more shows in 2009 and 2010. I won the lightweight class in both of those shows as well.

After 2010, Holly and I decided to focus on the business and start a family. I’m happy to say we have been very blessed with two kids and a successful chain of health clubs. In 2017, my wife Holly decided that she wanted to push herself to do a figure show. I researched a great deal to find her a coach that I thought would be a good fit and she took Holly on as a client. After two weeks of watching Holly’s body transform, I decided that I wanted to test the water again and see if I could make a return to the stage. I reached out to IFBB Pro Bodybuilder Jon De La Rosa, who has long been my favorite bodybuilder after watching him turn pro at the USAs in 2011. Honestly, I was nervous that he wouldn’t take me on as a client because I wasn’t in contest shape and I only had nine weeks to pull it all together. But on April 1st, 2017, after putting in the work and giving it our all, my wife and I competed together at the Governor’s Cup in Sacramento. She took second in her class in her very first show (and many had her winning the show). She look absolutely amazing and I knew that she had a bright future. I also won the lightweight Bodybuilding division and the new Classic Physique (classic bodybuilding) A Class, under 170 lbs. Right away my wife called her coach and told her she wanted to do the NPC USAs, just 13 weeks away! I agreed to continue on with her and compete then as well.

Long story short, Holly got sick and was forced to pull out of the show, but I was able to carry on and earn my Pro Card, becoming a professional athlete. My childhood dream had been fulfilled and the best part was that my kids and coach, (now one of my very best friends) Jon De La Rosa, were present to watch me earn pro status. So how did I do it? A weak, sickly kid with arthritis and asthma?

HOW I TURNED PRO IN FIVE STEPS:

  1. I first assembled a great team around me. I had my wife, kids, parents and my amazing coach. As Jim Collins says in the book Good to Great, “First figure out who belongs on the bus. Your team. Then you can figure out where the bus is going.” I didn’t know I’d be turning pro this year, but I assembled the right team to do so first.
  2. I trusted the people on my team. When push came to shove and I had to cut carbs, change my training style and add more cardio, I didn’t complain. I did the work as prescribed, knowing that my team cared about me and had that best plan for me. This is very difficult for most people and quite frankly, honest, caring coaches who are qualified and hungry to see others do well are very rare. So, I was lucky in a way.
  3. I believed in myself. If there is one trait that I have that has made me successful in any way, it is my capacity for faith, or belief, if you will. I have always had faith in myself, and those around me, that the best possible outcome will happen. I have never doubted my abilities. I don’t consider myself cocky, but I see obstacles as more of a challenge. Having beaten AS and asthma, I love a good challenge. A Napoleon Hill said, everyone has the capacity for faith, but most are using it in reverse gear and getting the things they don’t want in life, the things they fear. I agree. Have faith you can get what you want and then take massive action to get it.
  4. I had a clear vision of exactly what I wanted and desired. Clarity and focus are crucial to achieving anything. I firmly believe that most people don’t know what they want in life so they resign themselves to boring lives of quiet desperation. In the days leading up to the shows this season, I would meditate and read to control my mind and focus it on my outcome. I think that outcome-focused people avoid becoming problem-focused people. The biggest drug in the world isn’t in pill form. It is problems. We become addicted to our problems because we focus on them instead of what we actually want our outcome to be.
  5. I let fate take its course. This may sound counterintuitive considering the previous four steps, but the truth is that some things are outside our control. This is especially true in the bodybuilding world. It’s a subjective sport where opinions matter, not facts. While this may be difficult to handle, the truth is we live in a world where bad things happen to good people, the best don’t always win, and terrible things occur. Paying too much attention to things outside our control is a sure-fire way to depression and dissatisfaction. Instead, as the Stoics believed, I spent all the time and effort I could doing the things that were in my control and I let fate take it from there. That doesn’t mean settle, by the way. I’m simply saying that we should identify what we do have control over and what we don’t, and spend all of our energy on the things we CAN control!

So there it is, my long journey to becoming an IFBB Professional Classic Physique Bodybuilder. If I’m being honest, it’s still a little unreal. I’d like to thank all my family and friends again for their support. I’d like to thank my clubs, Fitness System, for being the best place to train in California. I’d urge anyone looking to have an incredible coach and human being in their life to look at http://www.jondelarosa.com to find out about his services.

And above all, I’d like to thank my wife Holly and kids for sticking with me through this journey. There will be more adventures to come.

In health,

Sean Covell IFBB PRO