Driving back from San Diego this evening was a typical freeway experience. This trip was about 70 miles at an average speed of 75mph. Around or near me where dozens of other cars; some going slower (the one's I need to get around, and some going faster (soon to be my competition) and we're all aimed at somewhere north of "here". We might even think of each other as comrades sharing a single goal, and possibly capable of helping each other achieve that goal. You've been on a freeway... not gonna happen!
Within a few miles I have identified the roadblocks in the way of my goal; cars traveling at a slower speed than me. And I've identified my competitors; other cars I need to compete with to occupy the openings and lanes that allow me to keep up a constant rate of speed. None of us are going to the same place, and probably everyone of us out there are traveling for vastly different reasons. But here we are caught up in dozens of mini-races looking for tiny victory's, grinding teeth at the losses, and none of it has much to do at all with our ultimate goal.
We compete because we can. Not because we have to. A fast driver will compete to drive fast and a slow driver will compete just to go slow. OOF!
The same is true among people in firms (and companies). When our largest goals are still far off we are willing to compete for whatever is closest at hand with just about anyone within reach. This is how factions are born (and die). At law firms, populated with so many finally tuned goal machines the day to day mini-races are just part of staying on top of our game. We do it and don't even know it.
When I was younger it felt important that I had to win every mini-race on the road. Two cars going much faster coming out of nowhere was simply an invitation to join in. These days I've grown comfortable with letting them shoot on by. As long as I am making progress as I see fit I can let their mini-race continue without me.
I guess my lesson here is that I don't have to beat everyone to everyone else's goals. I simply wish to get to mine at the speed and in the fashion that best suits me.