Ever since I started running more than 25 years ago, I’ve been a dedicated fitness enthusiast—a choice that has added energy, health, and adventure to my life. Along with running, I have enjoyed biking (both mountain and road), cross-country skiing, triathalons, and more recently, Crossfit.

And although I’ve enjoyed some more than others, there is one step—one “best practice”—that, in every pursuit, propelled my success, personal growth, and enjoyment.

I signed up for competitions.

As a runner, I entered 5K’s, 10K’s and half marathons. When I turned 30, I completed the New York City Marathon, which was the fulfillment of a lifelong goal. When I discovered mountain biking, I did the Ice Man, one of the most physically demanding endurance events I ever completed. Similarly, when I took up  freestyle skiing in my early 40’s, I entered the North American Vasa. And three years ago, when a frustrating battle with achilles tendonitis sidelined me from running, I jumped into Crossfit, a high intensity combination of Olympic Weightlifting, gymnastics, and boot camp-style training. Each of those years (including this year),  I signed up to compete in the Crossfit Open, an international competition with more than 350,000 athletes.

Regardless of how I finished, I’ve never regretted these experiences. Here are 3 reasons why stepping into the competitive arena, regardless of your skill level, always makes you better.

1) Competition will bring out the best in you.
No matter how committed they are, people give less than their absolute best effort when no one is keeping score. It’s human nature. Signing up for a competition, even if you’re competing against no one but yourself, creates a level of emotional engagement that drives you to bring your absolute best. For example, you can run recreationally by yourself or with a group of friends, but when you line up with hundreds of others at the start of a 5K or 10K race, there’s a “game on” switch activated in your mind, propelling you to push harder and finish stronger. It creates a new, higher standard for yourself.

2) Athletic competition spills over into every area of your life.
As a partner in a company with hundreds of employees, I have witnessed the  mindset similarity between athletic or artistic pursuits that require continued practice, perseverance, mental toughness, etc. and success in the workplace. Many of our top performing salespeople, for example, played competitive sports in high school and/or college. Although the dynamics of training for a half marathon and leading a project team at work may seem completely different, the lessons learned in one spill over into the other. For example, research from Cornell University found that students who played sports developed stronger leadership skills, worked better in teams, and demonstrated more confidence than those who didn’t.

3) Signing up for a competition pushes you out of your comfort zone… a great place to be.
Ask any high performer and they will tell you their greatest growth came when they had to overcome something–fear, adversity, naysayers, etc. Author and success expert Brian Tracy writes, “You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.” Indeed, the happiest, most successful people I know tend to live at the edge of their comfort zones. Signing up for a competition, especially for the first time, signifies a bold step from the relative comfort of the sidelines to the bright lights of the playing field, where exposure and risk of failure can create tension and even anxiety. My advice: Lean into this discomfort! Though it will be simultaneously stressful and invigorating, you will unearth a level of competitiveness and self-discovery that you rarely tap into, bringing deeper satisfaction and fulfillment in your life.

Last spring, my wife, Debbie was invited to train for a half marathon—something she had never considered. Although she exercises regularly (she owns a Peloton bike), running has never been her passion. Inspired by encouraging friends and the prospect of raising funds for African water wells, she jumped in with both feet, training all summer long  at distances of up to 12 miles per session. On race day, facing blustery winds and unexpectedly hilly terrain, she finished strong, completing the 13.2 mile race among the best in her age group. “Since I never thought of myself as a runner, I never would have considered a half marathon,” she said. “Signing up for the race definitely pushed my comfort zone, but the experience was exhilarating and I’m planning to continue running.”

If you’ve been indecisive about signing up for that 5K or 10K run, mountain bike race, YMCA basketball tourney or tough mudder, I want to encourage you to put your fears aside and go for it! Remember, life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.

Are there any competitive experiences that have positively impacted your life in recent years? What would it mean to you, and to the quality of your life, to enter the competitive arena? I’d love to hear your feedback.