As climbers go, Adrian Ballinger is a beast. He's been a guide for over fifteen years and has led more than one hundred expeditions on five continents. Prior to 2016 he had summited Mt. Everest six different times. And he's not just incredibly fit; he's also developed a pre-acclimatization method that dramatically reduces the amount of time climbers need to spend on the mountain.
Yet in 2016 he attempted to summit Everest with his friend, Cory Richards... and failed.
His ego got in the way.
"I was always the fastest climber," Adrian says. "That's always been my role on the mountain: I climb fast. I'm in front. I set camps. I loved that feeling, that role.
What was interesting is that as we (he and Cory) got very high on the mountain, our roles sort of flipped. Cory became the stronger, the faster climber above 26,000 feet... and I found it so difficult for me from an ego perspective. I just couldn't let him go, couldn't let him run ahead of me, and did everything I could to keep up.
That process of trying to keep up is ultimately what I think caused my failure. I utilized all my reserves, all my energy just to get to the highest camp at the same time as Cory... and then didn't have what it would take to make the final push to the top. I ended up turning around, dangerously cold... and really worried about just getting down alive."
Ego is swagger. Ego is boasting. Ego is the overt pretense of bravery. Ego is a loud and inflated sense of self directed at other people.
Ego is stupid.
Confidence, on the other hand, is quiet. Confidence is a natural expression of ability, expertise, and self-regard.
Confidence is smart. Confidence can adapt. Confidence can take a step back, admit to struggles or failures, and find a different way.
Yet we all do things that have more to do with ego than results.
Maybe you serve on a committee because you like how it looks on your CV. Maybe you teach at a local college because you like the words "adjunct professor." Maybe, like me, you wrote a weekly column for your local newspaper mostly because you liked when people recognized you at the grocery store.
(If you're like me, the majority of the mistakes you've made were based on ego-driven decisions.)
Anything you do that serves the greater glory of you is a waste of time.
Besides, the best glory is reflected, not projected.
In 2017 Adrian went back on the mountain with Cory, but this time he took a different mental approach.
"A key to being successful really is starting from a point of honesty with one's self. I was so focused on putting out this image of being the strongest climber on the mountain, which I've always been, that when it became not true... I wasn't able to actually listen to my body and make smart decisions to be successful. My ego got in the way of my success."
Adrian drastically changed his nutrition and training regimen, one that had already helped him become the first American to summit three 8,000-foot peaks within three weeks. (Part of his change was adopting a ketogenic diet to cause his body to burn fat for fuel.) He shifted from high intensity, high heart-rate training to slower, steadier endurance training.
And on May 27, 2017, Adrian stood atop the summit of Mount Everest -- and used no supplemental oxygen to help get him there. Less than 200 people have done that.
What changed between 2016 and 2017? Ballinger stopped comparing himself to other people and started comparing himself to himself. He focused on what he needed to do to be a better climber -- not to be better than other people, but to be better than he was.
That approach will work for you, too. Stop comparing yourself to other people. Start picking a goal, working hard, and measuring your progress against that goal.
That is the only comparison that matters.