There’s so much that goes into actually becoming competitive—in sports, in business, throughout your industry. But the best place to begin is by sorting yourself out, and making sure you’re ready to get where you want to go. Jake Thompson is the Founder and Chief Encouragement Officer at Compete Every Day, a lifestyle brand that helps leaders stay motivated, and reach their career, fitness, and life goals. Jake sits down with John Livesay, and gets into the nitty-gritty of what makes you a more competitive individual, and what makes your business ultimately more competitive. Hint: It’s all in you, all the time.
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Compete Every Day: What You Can Do Differently With Jake Thompson
Our guest is Jake Thompson. Jake teaches people how to compete every day so they can reach their full potential. He’s got experience as an athlete, an entrepreneur and a speaker, and he’s learned how to change a few choices that everybody makes so that they can be closer to the career, health and life that they were created to reach. The world’s most successful display of a specific mindset and the five traits of a winning competitor is what allows everybody to overcome the challenges we all face in life. He’s got book called Compete Every Day, the seven things leaders do differently so that they can win both in their career and in their life. Jake, welcome to the show.
John, thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
I want to ask you like I do most of my guests to take us on your own story of origin. You can go back as far as childhood, high school, college, whatever it was, how did you get to be you?
I grew up in a small town out in East Texas, Piney Woods. For anyone that’s ever seen or are familiar with Friday Night Lights, that is Texas small-town football through and through. We’re about 12,000 to 13,000 people. The town shuts down and packs into the stadiums on Friday nights. I grew up with a massive love for football, sports and competition. I left East Texas and came to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex for college fully with the intention of being a sports agent. I was passionate about staying in that career. It was a competitive industry. I found love working at an internship for a few years. I got my Master’s degree. Then getting into that space and spending a few years in there, I realized that wasn’t what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
I read a book about the importance of story, ironically enough and how the actions we take, the things that we do, tell others what we believe not only about ourselves, but about the world around us. If we’re constantly pursuing things that only take care of ourselves, that are only padding our own bank account, if we’re not doing anything to make impacts beyond us, then we’re selling ourselves short. We’re selling our story short. I was challenged at that point in my early twenties to evaluate what I had been focused on, what I was telling everyone was important versus how my actions were showing others what was important.
I started going down this path that led me to the idea of Compete Every Day and this brand has started. I came up with the brand message at the end of 2010 while I was doing marketing consulting with a number of companies in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Eventually, it led me to putting some money into a few boxes of t-shirts and tank tops and selling them out of the back of my car back in 2011 as a side hustle with the one message that, “I believe you’ve got what it takes to show up, compete against your own previous best and I want to remind you of that and motivate you to keep doing that every day.”
There are a couple of things I want to click on that. First of all, this concept of only competing with yourself versus other people. I used to be a competitive swimmer. They’d line you up in heats and you have this race and I remember there’s always a guy that beat me. In breaststroke, you pull your head up out of the water and you take a breath and put it back down and then they measure your time to the thousandth of a second at the touchpads, and I beat him by less than a second. I said, “How did that happen?” They said, “You stay focused on the wall and he turned his head to the right to see if he was ahead, and that half a second of looking caused you to win.” I went, “I wonder if that’s true in life and in business, staying focused on our own progress.” It’s easy for us to start comparing ourselves to other speakers, other companies, “What are they doing? Maybe I should change.” Let’s talk about your insights on how you help people take those lessons from athletics, into the business world where we’re not competing with anybody else but ourselves.
That example is beautiful. I love that. If you haven’t seen that swimming example as well, there’s a wonderful picture of Michael Phelps in one of his Olympic Trials swimming. You see the competitor looking into the lane to his left and Phelps ended up winning that race beggarly and they show the importance of comparison. For all of us, it’s easy, all around us. There are other speakers, companies, and people doing what we’re doing or what we want to do. We need to look everywhere. We need to do exactly what they’re doing. In all reality, what that causes us to do is be like a track star swimmer who’s facing and going toward the finish line straight ahead. Anytime you turn your shoulders or your head, turn your focus off, you slow down. Your body is not designed to go at peak speed forward if you’re looking at somewhere else or if you’re twisted. The same applies to our life, we burn ourselves out and exhaust our energy, honestly, by focusing on things outside of our control.Being responsive is a competitive advantage. Click To Tweet
A lot of my work is talking to people about how do we not only turn the focus inward? What do we control? Every day we control our actions, attitudes and efforts. Those three things regardless of what life has our attitudes, actions, and efforts are always up to us. It’s our choice every day, what attitude we’re going to have. It’s our choice what efforts we’re going to give and it’s our choice what actions we take or we don’t take. For us, once we start to understand it, then we look at what we’re going to do. One of the examples I love using with sales teams is this idea of three yards and a cloud of dust. If you’re familiar with football, it’s the old 1920s, ‘30s South football before they ever threw the ball. A snap and run three yards downfield. You can go from your own one yard line all the way down the field to the opposite end zone and score by doing that. However, it’s not sexy.
No one is putting you on SportsCenter for highlight reels because you didn’t make this crazy, amazing play. However, that’s ultimately what success is. It’s putting your head down, it’s doing one little thing every single day consistently moving that ball that gets us down the field toward our goals. You can’t do that if you’re looking everywhere else. What are we controlling every day? What’s the 1 to 3 things that we’re doing to advance that ball that are on us? We’re not waiting on someone else to make a decision. In sales, this is a perfect example of prospecting, putting out content, contacting people. It takes a second person to make that sale but it’s 100% on you, how many much outreaches you’re doing, how many things you’re creating, how much help and stories are you telling the world to help drive inbound sales as much as you are doing the outbound.
I like what you said there about, “Let’s focus on what we can control, not what we can’t control.” You and I are both keynote speakers. We get typically called in, they like our video, our agent has got us an interview, we do our best to tell them what we’re going to do and then we wait. Anybody who’s been in sales, you go in, you make a presentation, they have other people they have to see, there are a lot of people that have to make it. Their timeframe is different than our timeframe, 9 times out of 10. Getting that job, that sale is our number one priority and then making a decision is not their number one priority. I would love to hear what you do to follow up without being pesty or pedantic like, “Checking in to see if you’ve made a decision.” As if they forgot to tell you one way or the other. If we could give that to the readers, that awareness of, “I can’t control when they make the decision, but how I interact with them, I can control.”
You 100% can. One of the things that I’ve learned or trained myself in this area is the idea of a quick response. If someone were to immediately reach out to you about a gig, sometimes you’re like, “I’m not going to pick up the phone and call them right now or email them back right now, that’s going to make me look I’m desperate.” I’ve switched that thinking to where you can say, “I’m effective and I’m going to be efficient in my time. If you’ve reached out on your computer, I want to jump on this opportunity to help you.” It’s getting that limiting belief out.
From a follow-up, when we get off the phone immediately, the first thing I’m going to do is send an email with a recap of everything we talked about and a personalized video. I’m going to pull out my phone, shoot a quick video talking to you. Especially as a speaker, someone that’s in sales, I want to add some energy, some color, some commentary to the conversation we had on the phone by showing you my face, by showing how I’m going to present to you in person, that I’m excited about it and feel like, “I’ve got this cool video in an email that is personalized, it’s not some standard thing.” It’s going to help you tell that story a little bit better about what you do and how you stand out.
I’ll set a follow-up. When we’re on the phone I’m going to ask, “When would be a great time on your timeline to touch base with you?” You’re going to use like, “Give me that ballpark.” What I’ll do is I’ll shoot them a note on the day, “Following up as promised on this date. I’m going to touch base with you at this point.” If I haven’t heard back, it’s usually about three days later, I’m going to give them a call at that point. I’m going from email, touching base as I promised, following up with a phone call that’s going to allow us to have that conversation on your timeline. Then if we need to, let’s hop on another call, video call and whatnot.What is the best attitude, action and effort ? Click To Tweet
For me, it’s always that personalized touch of, “Let’s hop on a call and then let me send you a video with that email follow up.” If it’s someone of, “The timing is not right now.” For us, it’s a timing game on speaking and it maybe 6 months or 8 months from now before we’re ready or perhaps in a month or two, it’s already off their plate, it still may be our top priority but it’s not theirs. I’m going to send them a little packet in the mail, “Here’s some information about one of my programs. Here’s a note.”
What’s always helpful is if you’re someone that will go above and beyond and you’ll find these people on Facebook, on LinkedIn and Instagram and what they’re talking about, what they’re doing, then you have a talking point. If you’re a big sports fan then I can say, “Congrats, your team won. Their state rival wanted to send you this information so your team is set up to win the same way this year.” Something that’s not pestering them but you’ve also touched them in multiple different ways to tell that story, not only, “Here is how I can help you, here’s how I talk about these certain things, teach these certain things. I want you to see how I behave in our interactions that reinforce I’m someone that’s accountable, gritty, persistent, all the same things I want to teach your company how to behave.”
There are several things you said there that are great. In fact, we’re going to tweet this out, “Being responsive is a competitive advantage.” Unlike in the dating world where you might be seen as needy, “I’ll call you back after the date three times,” it’s the opposite here, and that’s fantastic. Also, I like the concept of personalizing something. I always tell people, act as if you already have the job. When I was up for a speaking job at Redfin, which is a real estate company, I thought, “I’m going to call and pretend I’m selling my place and see how they treat me. I’m going to call a competitor and see how I get treated before the interview.” They went, “What did you find out?” You say, “If I do that much preparation for the interview, imagine how much I’ll do if you pick me.” You connect those dots for people.
The other thing you said that I love is, “I saw your team won, congratulations. Let’s help your team and business.” You connect those emotional dots of winning, which is what your brand is all about. I’ve done the same thing, if I’m going to be speaking to a client, I’ll look them up on LinkedIn and say, “I see you worked in San Francisco, China, and now you’re in Europe. That’s an impressive career.” Some little thing that lets them know that you’ve taken a minute to know something about them personally is strong.
How many invitations do we get on LinkedIn or by email of people that’s a standard copy and paste, there’s no awareness of what we do? I laugh because the company name is Compete Every Day and I get all of this email about, “We own gyms and fitness professionals.” They’re selling me equipment if you’re a gym owner, and I’m like, “You didn’t even look at my profile.” A little bit of research, even the tiniest bit helps you stand out and tell the story that you’re invested in this process, this relationship. It’s not a, “Wham bam, thank you, ma’am. Quick, let me get you sold and out the door. Next person up.” You care about continuing on that story.
How did you come up with the name, Compete Every Day, for your book and website?
The brand, ironically, took a few different iterations. I always was a competitive guy. I was a smaller kid in sports. For me, a competition was the opportunity to prove I belonged, more than anything I wanted to show I could outwork you and outsmart you, no matter what your talent was. The older I got, the more I started to realize the comparison game we all play is exhausting. There’s always someone ahead of you. There’s always someone behind you. If you’re constantly competing against everyone else, not only you’re going to burn yourself out, but you’re going to be lost because your identity is tied up in every single one of those head to heads, versus saying, “Who was I yesterday? How am I going to show up better in my work today? How am I going to show up more focused, more present with my coworkers, my family? How can I compete?”Your attitudes, actions, and your efforts are always up to you. Click To Tweet
When I started exploring this path, it was the idea of looking at all areas of your life, your health, your relationships, and your career. What would happen if someone were to show up and compete to be their best in every single area? Honestly, I laughed, the first iteration of the company I called Stacked and I was like, “That’s a terrible name.” It had the core philosophies of the idea of stacking them on top of each other and pursuing greatness. Genuinely, I was on a ski trip with two friends and tinkering with designs and sketching things and I said, “What about Compete Every Day?” Both guys were like, “That is you. That fits your personality. You’re the most competitive driven person we know, run with it.” That was December of 2010. It took 6 to 7 months to try to play with things to figure out, what is the best fit for this message?
You referenced Michael Phelps and when I was selling advertising, I had Speedo as a client. They invited him to an event because he was on their payroll as a spokesperson and I got to ask him. As a former competitive swimmer, you can imagine what a thrill that was as an athlete yourself, “I’ve got to meet Tom Brady or something.” What would you ask them? I said, “Everyone says you’re a great swimmer because of your physique. You’ve got these big lungs and your feet are like fins. I bet there’s something else.” He said, “Yes. My coach asked me early on if I was willing to work out on Sundays and I said yes. We’ve got 52 more workouts in the near competition because everybody takes Sundays off.” I thought of that story for you when I saw your brand name, Compete Every Day, because I went, “Most people don’t think of competing. We certainly take Sundays off.” I thought, “What a great little nugget of that for you and your world of athletes.” Is there a professional athlete that you have met or want to meet? What would you ask them if you haven’t met them yet?
Probably, I have a laundry list that I would want to meet. Michael Jordan, obviously, being one of the greatest. I’m fascinated by the stories I’ve heard about him. We’ve all heard the story that he was cut from his high school varsity, and then everybody’s like, “He’s just Michael Jordan. He’s the greatest player ever.” He wasn’t always, he was a good player. In college, he did extra work. The Carol Dweck mindset profiles that if he didn’t follow shots to the basket during games, he would force himself to run sprints after the game, do extra practice. When he got to the NBA, he still was not the greatest player of all time. He was good. It was only by going through the adversity of the Detroit Pistons three years in a row, that he changed his workout routine. He changed how he trained, how he bulked up, how he played the game, encouraged more of his teammates to step up their game from a mental perspective and then went on the run of two different three-peat.The difference between nervousness and excitement is your preparation. Click To Tweet
He would be someone I would be fascinated to learn how he approached the idea of his habits. What did he see? How did he create the habits he created? What held him accountable to it? He has one of the greatest work ethic drives that we’ve ever seen and it was too much for a lot of people to deal with. I’m curious how he built those. What fires stoked him to develop the right habits and then how he’s stuck to it. A lot of us have habits we want to start. We have things we consistently want to do, but we don’t have that resolve to stick with it for years.
Speak to the level of lessons you learn from sports as it relates to confidence in business. For example, if you’re a baseball pitcher, you’re not going to be perfect and yet do you lose your confidence for the next pitch? They don’t say, “No. I remember who I am.” What lessons have you learned in athletics that can help people with their confidence in business?
There are two areas to that question. The first is, “What’s the next play?” That’s the terminology I use with athletes of asking, “What’s the next play?” There is going to be a bad play that happens in sports, you’re going to throw an interception, you’re going to get a home run hit off of you, just the same as you’re probably going to give a presentation. That sucks. You may lose a deal. Something bad is going to happen. At that point, it’s behind you, and great players in sports aren’t wrapped up on, “I do an interception. I missed the shot.” They’re taken out of the moment. If they’re like, “That happened. What did I learn? What am I going to do differently? What’s the next play?”
For us in life, it’s an idea of getting out of our own head. Most of us, like we talked about when we’re swimming, if we look into the left and the right at everyone else we slow down. The same applies when you’re trying to look behind you at what has already happened in the past, you slow down, you’re taken out of the present. For us, something bad is going to happen but at that moment, you have to say, “What’s the lesson and what’s the next play?” Get your eyes back to the present moment. The second thing is the difference between nervousness and excitement is your preparation. Simply done is preparation. The best way to prepare is by getting your reps set.
You build confidence one choice at a time, one day at a time. It’s like getting your reps. A pitcher is going to throw thousands and thousands of fastballs throughout the course of their career. A quarterback is going to make many passes. All of these basic drills that we see athletes do, they’ve done them time and time again, which makes them good at them in the middle of the game. The same, a lot of us go into sales meetings and presentations and we’re like, “We’re going to wing it.” What that does is it creates more nervousness in us, we’re trying to pull from things and our presentation isn’t as sharp.The preparation allows you the opportunity to improve. Click To Tweet
If we put in the reps of preparing, just like we do when we speak, I had someone talk to me about the presentation, she’s like, “That looked natural.” I’m like, “That 45-minute talk, I’ve given twenty hours’ worth in the last year. All of those little bits, I’ve told those for hours and hours. That’s 60, 70 hours’ worth of content that you saw. The reason I’m able to do that is because I’ve done all the prep, I’ve got all the rep.” The only way we get better at work is by getting our reps in. Most of us are concerned about what we’re going to look like in the beginning. I don’t want to look like, “I’m at this certain level and my company, I can’t look like I don’t know what I’m doing or I’m trying to learn something new. That would look bad on me.” No. Successful people are saying, “I don’t care if I look like a rookie. I don’t care if I look a little bit foolish trying something new. I want to get better.”
Athletes, actors, everyone practices and rehearses and yet sometimes salespeople who’ve been doing it for a while, “I don’t need to practice my presentation.” It’s not going to be customized in and they might stumble and they might confuse people, they aren’t doing the work, especially when the stakes are high and there’s a big potential win. It shows when people have put the preparation in it and when they haven’t.
The preparation allows you the opportunity to improve in the moment. If you think about football, when a play breaks down and a quarterback has to scramble and improvise on the fly, they still know where everybody is on the field. They may have to change where they are, where they’re rolling to, but they still know. When you get up to do a talk or you give a presentation, you know all your story, you know your bit, but then something can happen in the audience, or the client does something and you’re like, “That’s a perfect analogy for this.” You can use that in the moment to tie it in and still continue to flow through the conversation because you’ve rehearsed, you have those reps and you’re well-prepared. Otherwise, if you saw that, you would see it and dismiss it and you would lose the opportunity to tie something in immediately on hand and on purpose.
Good actors will do that all the time, they’ve done all that rehearsal and then when the cameras are rolling, there’s a moment where they say something or react something that’s authentic because they’ve done all the prep. Arthur Ashe, the famous tennis pro said, “The key to success is confidence and the key to confidence is preparation.” It’s full circle back to you, Jake. I love your message and what you’re saying and how you let us apply it in our everyday lives. You talked a little bit about grit and I know that’s a big foundation of your talk and your book. Tell us what we can do if we don’t think of ourselves as someone who has grit and how do you define it?
Angela Duckworth does a phenomenal job in her book of defining grit as the ability to pursue goals with relentless inner fire. It’s that propensity to pursue it, that no matter how long it takes, how hard the road is, you’re willing to endure. Duckworth does a good job in her book of showing that talent will factor into success, there’s talent in all of us. You put effort and how much effort you put forth is twice as important, which is why there are people in sales that are incredibly talented communicators and storytellers that are lapped by people with less talent, less natural communicative abilities, but far greater effort. They’re putting in the effort to improve their communication, how they tell their story, how they prepare for their presentations. Effort is a big deal.
For me, grit is the ability to get your goals, but more than anything, it’s the decision that you’re going to put forth 100% effort every single day regardless of how you feel from day one until the day you get there. What that looks like from day-to-day is going to vary, but it’s going to go back to you maintain your grit when you’re focusing on what you control which is today, my attitude, actions, and effort. I’m not worried about tomorrow. I’m not worried about six months from now. I’m only focused on what I’m doing today.
We all get demotivated. We all burn out when we start saying, “I’ve been working on prospects for a month, two months, I’m not getting the leads.” What you don’t see is you’ve been planning some good seeds that are taking more time to develop. A lot of people are going to quit right then instead of saying, “What have I learned from the process? How do I keep planting seeds this year? How do I keep cultivating those relationships so when the opportunity arrives, I’m ready for it?”
Grit is relentless inner fire. You have one of those comments on the t-shirts that you sell on Compete Every Day, outwork your talent. To me, that’s what you define grit as.
It doesn’t matter how good it is that you’re born with, what talents and natural abilities you’re born with, what matters is what you do with them and what you choose to build. That’s a core tenet. One of the chapters of the book is all-around effort and how successful people I’ve seen aren’t as reliant on what they’re born with but continually build it. Even if they were born with unworldly talent, they still choose to outwork it, which has made them legendary in their field.
It’s been fascinating and inspiring. I can see why you’re a great speaker. The book, I can’t wait to get my hands on Compete Every Day. Any last thought or quote you want to leave us with, Jake?
The biggest one that I always go back to is the fact that our careers and our lives are worth competing for. If you’ll be someone that would commit to yourself, not anyone else but just to yourself, to start showing up every day doing the little things and writing the story that you want for your life, success awaits you. It may not be immediate, it may not be a year from now, two years from now but over time, it will start to develop the story that you leave behind on this earth is the one that matters and the one that you wanted.
What a great place to end. Thanks again.
Thanks for having me.
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