Be Better Than Your Best
Bohdan Bondarenko, born in 1989 in the city of Kharkiv, Ukraine, is tall, looming at 6′ 5.5″. He had an interest in athletics, particularly the high jump, since boyhood. His role model then was Sergey Bubka, the legendary Ukrainian world pole vault record holder. But his father and coach, Victor Bondarenko, could never have predicted the heights to which Bohdan would literally rise.
In 2006, Bohdan, the youngest participant in that year’s International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) World Junior Championships in Beijing, barely made it into the finals with a jump of 2.14m. But once there, he excelled himself and surprised everyone with a jump of 2.26m, taking home the bronze medal.
On 7 August 2012, he beat his own record at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London by clearing 2.29m, tying with three others for the bronze medal. A year later, in 2013, he was again doing better than his best by jumping 2.33 in his first two Diamond League meets in 2013, at Doha, UAE, and Shanghai, China.
He toppled that record too in short order the same year at the Sainsbury’s Grand Prix meeting, a Diamond League competition in Birmingham, England, with a jump of 2.36m. For those watching, it was no longer clear just how high Bondarenko could go; every time he jumped he just did better than his previous best.
In 2014, Bohdan showed the world what he was made of at the IAAF Diamond League in Lausanne, Switzerland. Most of the competitors had exited the contest at 2.33m, leaving only Bohdan and Erik Kynard, the USA’s London 2012 Olympic Games silver medallist.
Kynard took the lead with a first-time clearance at 2.37m, a personal best. Bondarenko had to go higher if he wanted to win. But he cleared 2.39m effortlessly.
Kynard raised the bar to 2.41m but couldn’t meet it, and exited the contest. Bondarenko, tried — and on his third attempt, sailed over 2.41m with room to spare.
Bondarenko, unable to resist challenging himself to go even higher, raised the bar raised to 2.46m, but failed despite three attempts. But a year later, in 2014, Bohdan achieved his personal best jump of 2.42 metres at the 2014 IAAF Diamond League event in New York City.
The term ‘raising the bar’ comes from the world of high jumping, and refers to setting a higher target than you reached the last time. Bohdan’s story is a powerful illustration of the power and value of constantly raising your own bar, challenging yourself to do even better than what you thought was your best. Bohdan, starting at 2.14 m at age 16, today holds the world record at 2.42 — an increase of 28 cms.
He is sure that isn’t his best either, and is already working to better it.
Being better than your best means that you are constantly competing against yourself. It means that no one has to lose for you to win. It also means that you know and believe that you will improve as long as you live, and that in your journey towards success, there is no point where you will declare that you have reached the pinnacle.
Perhaps you are wondering — how could anyone possibly aim to be better than their best without even knowing what the best is? The good news is that you don’t have to know your best; you just have to assume that whatever you are doing, it can be done just a little bit better. Thus you become your own role model, raising your own bar and reaching for a higher standard.
Einstein once famously said, “You cannot change your current conditions with the same thinking that created those conditions.” Raising the bar on yourself pushes your limits, making you realise that you are always and forever capable of yet another step forward, one more improvement, one more push forward even when it feels like you have reached your goal and achieved complete success.
Raise the bar and challenge yourself to better your performance in any of your goals or dreams, whether you’re a trader or a poet, a doctor or a janitor. You might be amazed at what follows.
The benefits of doing just a little bit more
In work, raising the bar means that you do a little more than anyone expects of you. Let’s say that your job is just to send out your boss’s Instagram posts every day, or type out your manager’s research reports. If you did exactly that, no one would complain because you are fulfilling the terms of your employment.
But what if you went a step further, and tried to do just a little bit more. What if you began to aim the Instagram posts at people who matched your company’s profile and could become future clients? What if while typing the research report, you also fact checked it and tried to improve the language?
A person who does what is expected of him is treated as efficient. But one who raises the bar, tries to be better than his best, goes the extra mile, adds value — whatever you choose to call it — grows more and more valuable. The little extra is noticed and rewarded because it was unexpected and unasked for. It becomes a flag indicating that you are driven by your interest and passion in what you do, rather than just being a good foot soldier who follows orders.
Success seeks out such people.
How can you do better than your best? Here are some specific tips —
1. Don’t say yes just because you were asked to do something. The work you take on should be aligned with your goals, but more importantly, it should excite you and make you want to excel. When you are inspired and motivated, your work changes by itself. Your bar goes higher.
2. Set your expectations. Then raise them. Trust that, like most human beings, you too will habitually underestimate your true capabilities — and in important ways. If you are preparing for an important exam, your thinking mind might suggest that 85% is what you may hope to realistically achieve and represents your best.. Step in here and, like Bohdan, challenge yourself to score 95% instead. You may surprise yourself.
3. Focus on the current moment, let the next one take care of itself. No matter what your situation in life, your mind and perceptions create the environment for success. If you have anticipated and resolved all or most of the hurdles in your way, the future will unfold to embrace you. Resolving hurdles means that all your energies and thinking powers are focussed on reaching the high standards you have set for yourself,
4. Look in the mirror: make that person your greatest competitor in life. When you build your life’s work plan based on making yourself the person you must compete with, then your best will never be good enough, because it will be the best of your competitor, that person in the mirror. You will instinctively reach for a higher target, a better.
Cultivate a work ethic based on critiquing yourself and urging yourself to greater heights. See yourself as a diamond awaiting an endless process of polishing.