Hard work is often the only competitive advantage many people possess. You and I? We may not be as experienced, as well funded, as well connected, or as talented as other people.

But we can always work harder, work smarter, and work longer. 

But as Kara Lawson -- the Duke women's basketball team head coach, former assistant coach of the Boston Celtics, WNBA champion and All-Star, and Olympic gold medalist -- says, there's a huge difference between working hard and competing.

Plenty of people work hard. Plenty of people deserve praise for working hard.

But the best compliment you can receive (or give)? 

That you competed.

According to Lawson, most people mistake hard work for competitiveness. 

Hard work is I give you a task. I give you constraints on said task. I say, "You have to do this, in this amount of time, with this much weight, with this much load." Whatever it is, I give you these constraints, and then I force you to do it.

I can force you to work hard, just by what I ask you to do. You can force someone to work hard.

You can't force someone to compete.

The difference might seem subtle. Hard work requires effort, even extreme effort. So does competing. 

But working hard doesn't automatically mean striving for improvement. I can put in hours of effort without trying to be more efficient, or more accurate, or more effective. I can put in countless hours of effort without ever trying to "win," especially when my only competition is myself.

As Lawson says to her players:

At the end of every session we have, that's the question you're asking yourself: "Did I compete today?" 

That's different than working hard. Working hard is something that a lot of people do. Billions of people around the world ... billions of people work hard in whatever job they do.

Before you start, and then when you're done, be honest with yourself: "Did I compete today?"

When you think you're exhausted, when you think you're fried, when you think you've done all you can, remember: You always find a little more inside you. You are always capable of more than you think. Dig deep. Work a little harder.

When you're on the downside of advantage and reaching a goal feels impossible, don't just work hard.

Compete. Make the extra phone call. Send the extra email. Do the extra prep. Don't wait to be asked. Offer: to help an employee. To help a customer. To not just tell employees what to do but show them what to do, and then work beside them.

Every day, compete: to be the best entrepreneur you can be, the best boss you can be, the most empathetic listener you can be ... Whatever it is you set out to do, compete.

Sometimes with other people, but always with yourself.

Because consistent effort can make you different -- but competing will make you an even better "you" than you are today.

And that's the only competition that really matters.