I’m not going to be a national champion.

Those were my thoughts as I completed my first track and field practice as an NCAA Division I student athlete at Western Michigan University.

As much as this realization stung to the core, it was the truth. No matter how hard I practiced, the odds of my becoming a national champion were pretty much non-existent.

This realization didn’t mean that I didn’t want to get better. Quite the contrary. I was determined to see what I was made of. To see how far my DNA could take me.

Unfortunately, during my first two years of competing, I didn’t come close to placing in a major competition. I was hanging on for dear life and hoping not to get cut from the roster.

That was until one day at practice my coach pointed out something of which I was unaware.

“Antonio, we have two All-Americans on our team,” he said. “I’ve never seen you practice with either of them. Are you surrounding yourself with people who make you better?”

As he walked away I kept asking myself, “Antonio, who makes you better?” This question hit me like a ton of bricks.

The harsh reality was that I spent most of my time at practice going through the motions and joking around with the same group of teammates. As much as I loved these guys, if I gave a less than stellar effort, no one questioned me. They didn’t make me better.

Yet, right there in front of me were two All-Americans that could make me better. But I was intimidated. Why? Because I saw the discipline, hard work, and healthy habits that were required to compete at that level. These were two individuals who wouldn’t accept mediocrity. Was I willing to commit to working that hard?

Allies of Glory and Thieves of Ambition

The concept of who makes you better is one that exists beyond sports. It plays an integral role in all of our lives, careers, and relationships. At its core, it’s about taking a close look at those who surround us and identifying our Allies of Glory and Thieves of Ambition.

Your Allies of Glory are those people that support you, encourage you, challenge you, hold you accountable, and push you to give your all without excuses.

Your Thieves of Ambition are those people that question your motives, support mediocrity, are afraid of success, enable your excuses, and accept the status quo.

Identifying my Allies of Glory and Thieves of Ambition on my team wasn’t all that difficult. What was difficult was consistently aligning myself with my Allies of Glory. Why? Because they woke up earlier than I did. Because they did extra repetitions in the weight room. Because they watched their diet. Because they pushed me to my limits. Because they made me better. Much better.

In just under a year of surrounding myself with my Allies of Glory, I got results that previously eluded me. Working harder than I ever had before, I went on to become an All-Conference triple jumper, and, along the way, I earned the respect of my teammates and coaches.

No, I never became an All-American, and that’s ok. But what I did accomplish was knowing what it felt like to give my all and to surround myself with people who made me better. Though I never captured a conference championship, I learned what it took to be a champion.

Sometimes getting the results we crave means stripping ourselves of people that don’t serve our best interests. That way we can make space for those who support us in being the absolute best version of ourselves.

It’s as simple, and challenging, as asking the question: Who Makes YOU Better?

Antonio Neves is a career coach, speaker and award-winning business journalist. He is the founder of THINQACTION where he works with young professionals to produce exceptional results in their careers. Via his blog posts, videos and speaking engagements, Antonio’s goal is to empower young professionals to create their own luck. For more on Antonio visit his website, FACEBOOK or TWITTER.

Photo by Phil Roeder.