Everybody Needs A Nemesis (Not Just Superheroes)

Batman has the Joker; Spider-Man has the Green Goblin. Nearly every superhero has a nemesis. Who do you have?

nem·e·sis [nem-uh-sis]
1. something that a person cannot conquer, achieve, etc.: The performance test proved to be my nemesis.
2. an opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome.

If we want to achieve something, I believe you can better accomplish this if you have a nemesis to spur you on. In essence it’s a bit of competition, but the important detail is neither of you can “win”, or if one does gain the upperhand then it’s not for long.

I was prompted to write this after analysing the evolution of the relationship I have with a colleague1. Don’t get me wrong, we’re friends, but we do tend to “one-up” each other where we can, pushing each other until we reach an impasse. The latest “conflict” is based around both our efforts to lose a little weight, and in particular it’s about the having higher step-count on our FitBits. Obviously this is not something either of us can “win” – the counts reset every day, and ultimately we’ll both be better off. It hasn’t stopped us.

On her first day with the FitBit my colleague posted some big numbers. As a long-time user of the FitBit I felt a sense of injustice at this upstart trying to show me how it is done. So I promptly went out and logged a 10K walk, for 21K over the whole day. Feeling a similar sense of injustice that I stole her thunder on her first day, she went and logged 22K per day at the weekend. In response, these last few days I’ve tripled the average amount of steps I manage to log while at the office.

This battle of wills helps keep us both interested and focussed on our goals. Before it started I was beginning to get a little complacent in achieving mine.

A nemesis doesn’t even have to be a person. Is there a particular skill you just can’t seem to master? Perhaps a language you just can’t wrap your head around? A long-standing software bug you just can’t fix? Learn from it, and let your defeats spur you to keep trying until you succeed.

So a nemesis doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Use it as motivation, a way to improve and push harder to achieve something. I highly encourage you to identify your own nemesis.

  1. If you want to extend the superhero/comic nemesis metaphor further, this colleague would at one time have been considered my “protégé”. How very Jason Todd.
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