Find Your Nemesis

To start the new year off right, identify your nemesis. Find that person who is doing something similar, doing it well, and pledge to beat them.

For some reason, our society celebrates organizational rivalries. Yankees vs Red Sox. Michigan vs Ohio State. Lakers vs Celtics. As fans, we take special joy when our team beats our rival. As it should be.

We don’t do that with personal rivalries, though. I’m not sure why. It could be because, at some point, we’ve pacified. Everyone gets a trophy. Failure is a good thing. The world is inclusive.

There was no better personal rivalry than between two legends from my youth: Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Starting in college, these two men had an epic rivalry. Championships were on the line. So were prestige and pride.

Larry and Magic started off, but did not end, as bitter enemies. They wanted to beat the hell out of each other. Comparisons swirled. As Magic said, “I even hated him more because I knew he could beat me.” Bird was the perfect nemesis for Magic. Magic was the perfect nemesis for Bird. Both benefited from their rivalry. So did the fans.

Your nemesis will make you work harder. They will force you to think creatively. They will focus your energy.

How do you even begin the process of finding a nemesis?

A few rules for your nemesis-hunt:

  • They must be a worthy competitor — In another bad sports analogy, pro teams don’t play minor league teams. In order for a nemesis to drive you, they must be able to beat you. Find one that can; raise your game; and execute.
  • You don’t need to like them — Larry and Magic loved competing against each other but, at least initially, they didn’t like each other. Like Larry and Magic, you do not have to like your nemesis. Indeed, for many, disdain, kept in check, is a compelling emotion. You just need to *love *competing against them.
  • It can be an idea or institution — For many, including myself and many entrepreneurs, one’s nemesis is not a person, but an idea or institution. Uber started because the experience of a cab generally sucks. Airbnb is competing against the hotel industry. Find the *thing *that needs to change and change it.
  • It’s about you, not them — Self-motivation is difficult and fluid; it is hard to bring our A-game every day. Finding a nemesis is about external motivation. Our nemesis is an external marker. We can measure our gains against their gains.
  • It’s natural — We are programmed for survival. In theory, a nemesis is an existential threat. In practice, a nemesis is competitor to be beaten. Beat them and survive.

Happy 2015, good luck, now get to work.

Originally published on January 2, 2015.