Anybody who’s a fan of sports is familiar with the term “strength of schedule.” Strength of schedule refers to how good or bad the opponents of a particular team were at the time that they played them. So, for example, if my team was 1-1 and played against one team that was 2-0 and another that was 1-1, my strength of schedule would be considered stronger than another 1-1 team who played against teams that were both 0-2. The teams I played against had better records, so my team had a better strength of schedule.
Concepts like strength of schedule are important in sport because they help analysts and leagues determine which teams are actually better when two teams have similar records. A team with a 2-2 record might actually be better than a team with a 4-0 record if the team that is 2-2 only played strong teams, while the team that was 4-0 played teams that were winless.
I’ve always liked this concept since it helped sort out confusion in sports, but as I get older I realize that it also tends to exist in the regular world. Strength of schedule is not just a sporting concept, but one that I feel helps explain outcomes in a competitive environment like life as well.
In life we are equipped with two things: skills and challenges.
We build our skill set by studying and learning a particular craft. Whether that be through self-study, hands-on-experience, or college–our skill set is formed over many years. Our skill set is the shield we protect ourselves with, the knife that we hunt with, and the fire we cook with. What we know determines not only our path in life, but our potential to succeed on that path. Just as teams are armed with players, coaches, and plays they must execute correctly to put themselves in a position to win during competition, we must arm ourselves with trades, skills, and talents to win in life.
We apply our skills to the challenges we face. Whether that challenge is to provide for ourselves and family, create a new product or service, or elevate ourselves to the top of our respective field–succeeding against our challenges is what gets us there. Without challenges, we are lost. A life without challenges is no different from a team without a schedule, a game without a scoreboard, a book without an ending, or a road trip without a destination.
As you can see, the challenges we face in life are no different from the strength of schedule in sports. Being undefeated by playing only the weakest teams is no different than being successful because you never challenged yourself. The lower you set your bar, the less challenged you are. And the less challenges you face, the less learning and growth you will experience.
Many people do the same things and take on the exact same challenges every day. Although they find security and comfort in the predictability and routine, they are usually unhappy. Every year they become less likely to seek out or take on bigger challenges because they fear failing. They are undefeated in a non-competitive environment. Meanwhile another person approaches life with a self-improvement mindset. They know they will not succeed against every challenge they face but, instead of defining success by their victories, they define success by the challenges they have taken on. Even when they start at the same place, eventually these two people’s paths will separate. One will have an advantage because they deliberately took on tougher challenges that built their skills and experience, while the other will still be in the same place with the same skills they started with. When we look at the lives of successful people, it’s very common to find out that from an early age they were taking on challenges that their peers weren’t. Some had parents who pushed them to read at higher levels, or practice their instrument for an hour a day while their friends were playing, or put them in competitive environment with kids who were much older. By the time these kids get older they are head and shoulders above their competition. Not because they were born with the most talent, but because instead of being comfortable where they were they took on challenges that built their skills and experience at a much faster rate. In other words, they had a tougher strength of schedule.
This is why we must challenge ourselves. We will never reach the next level if we are comfortable with the current one. And we will never build skills that take us to the next level if we do not challenge ourselves by taking on tougher challenges.
Here are four reasons why challenging ourselves is important:
- It Gives us Something to Look Forward To – If you have nothing to look forward to, you have nothing to be excited about. Envisioning a life that we want to live in the future is a powerful tool in guiding our daily thoughts and decisions. If you are looking forward to the future, you will most likely make more positive decisions in the present.
- It Builds Our Skills – Getting to the next level isn’t just about envisioning the next level, it is about practicing our skill enough to get better. The more we practice, the better our skills get. These are the same skills that people at the next level already have.
- Prepares us for the Next Level – Even when we take on things that are beyond our current skill level, we are preparing for the next level. We may not be ready for the next level yet, but taking on tougher challenges lets us know the limits of our skills and talent and where we need to improve to reach the next level.
- Builds Confidence – Confidence is built through doing; through succeeding at challenges that are slightly larger and more challenging every time out. As we ascend up the ladder of challenges, we feel more confident about what we’ve done already. This confidence could never be built without us taking on larger challenges each time out. Experience builds confidence.
So, what is your strength of schedule? Are you doing the same thing with the same skill-set you started with or are you trying to learn new skills? Are you facing and defeating the same challenges every day or are you actively seeking out newer and bigger challenges every day?
Are you making decisions that ensure you reach the next level or are you content where you are right now?
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