To clarify a point from last week, the scavenger hunt story: It isn't just that the perceived size and significance of the competition is usually an illusion and should never discourage you from trying. That's part of it, but I was also trying to say that other people rarely care about the same goals in the same way as you do.
As human beings, we're biased to assume everyone thinks the same way. Our brains tell us that the people around us share the same desires and ambitions to the same general degree. Not the case, says science! Some people want completely different things. Meanwhile, other people want the same things, but more, or not as much.
I assumed the other kids cared about winning the scavenger hunt as much as I did. They did not. Not even close. They were just bored. They would have thought I was weird if they could see inside my head and understand just how much I cared about winning no matter what.
Jerry Seinfeld tells a story about members of an orchestra stranded by a blizzard on their way to a big performance. Trudging through the snow in their tuxedos to find help, they peek inside the window of a house along the road and see a big, happy family snuggling by the fire and enjoying hot chocolate. The oboist, cold and miserable, turns to the conductor: "Suckers."
The fact is, you never really know. People play things close to the vest. Someone acts casual about their career while gunning for the big promotion. Someone else plants themselves at the coffee shop at dawn seven days a week but writes their novel with complete indifference to the idea of being published.
Whatever ambition you have for your work, pay no attention to the appearance of competition—or its seeming absence. Keep your nose to your own grindstone. You might be outmatched, but entering the match is the only way you'll ever find out.