There’s an idea about competing that winning is everything. It isn’t. I like to compete because it pushes me. Physically, it teaches me how much more is in the tank when the needle is hovering on “E”. As a business owner, it keeps me thinking about how to do it better and to create something new that’s useful.
Few things in business are winner-takes-all. In the ten years since founding Jack Mountain Bushcraft, I’ve seen a lot of outdoor businesses come and go. Often the realities of outdoor entrepreneurship don’t match up with the daydreams of how great it would be to do what you like for a job. Regardless of how it looks, it isn’t an easy way to make a living. But even though it’s often challenging, I routinely send business to my competitors when I have scheduling conflicts, when our courses are full, or when I think they would be a better fit for a student.
I was discussing this recently and someone asked if it didn’t hurt my business to help my competitors. I didn’t answer right away, because I had to think about it. While I don’t remember the exact words, what I said was something along the lines of others don’t have to fail for my company to succeed.
Bushcraft and traditional outdoor skills is a growing field in North America. Ten years ago when I explained our semester programs to people they looked at me like I had three heads. It’s because they had never heard of the concept. When I help out another business I know I’m also helping my own. The more visible bushcraft becomes, the more interest there will be. It’s pretty simple. These days awareness of bushcraft and traditional outdoor skills is much greater, making it easier for me to explain what we do at Jack Mountain.
I read a great piece in the September, 2009 edition of Competitor Magazine. It’s one of the free, exercise-oriented magazines that are regionally focused and given away at gyms. It was an interview with Chris Phelan of Garland, Texas, about his 45-year love affair with running and competing. The last question he was asked was, “What makes you a competitor?”
“I’m a competitor because I have a unique perspective toward the people in front of me and behind me during a race. I can’t win without someone losing, and I can’t lose without someone winning. The way I see it, the people in front of me are urging me to catch up and the people behind me are cheering me forward. Being a competitor includes others.”
Being a business owner, I’m a competitor. And like Mr. Phelan said, being a competitor, whether in sport or business, includes others.