What the #PhelpsFace Was Really About (and Why No One Wants to Admit It)

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(This post originally appeared on Inc.)

Michael Phelps has not only been crushing it in Rio, but he’s also been destroying the Internet. That’s because of a viral photo (see above) of him taken right before a race he was about to swim. The #PhelpsFace has been trending on Twitter and has been the subject of thousands of hilarious memes.

So what does this picture show? Concentration, some think. Determination. Focus. Maybe he’s just angry with himself for firing off a tweet that had a typo in it, as someone pointed out. Or that he put coffee in the filter, but forgot to start the timer, a journalist suggested. Or, we hate to admit, it could’ve been something darker.

When asked, Phelps said he wasn’t thinking of anything at the time. He was in a zone, another world. Nah….the #PhelpsFace had nothing to do with the South African swimmer who was warming up in front of him, despite the look of intense hatred in the American’s eyes. He was just getting himself psychologically ready for the big race, he said. I don’t buy it and neither should you. The #PhelpsFace is about hate. We all get it. Admit it. Embrace it. Because hate, channeled the right way, can be a good thing.

A couple of times a year I am obliged to go to “partner” conferences. These conferences are put on by the companies for which my firm sells products (i.e. Microsoft, etc.). At these conferences, hundreds – even thousands – of “partners” attend to get education, exhibit their products, network, mingle and trade business cards. Many people I know love going to these things. They get to catch up with friends. They might share some trade secrets or discuss ways they can collaborate. And I get this – with the right attitude, a conference like this can definitely be a good thing.

But not for me. I hate everyone there. I am Michael Phelps, without the good looks and muscles. I am required to be there out of respect for the vendors I sell for. But my #PhelpsFace is on. These people are not my friends. They are not my partners. They are my competitors. Every. Single. One. They are nice people, with families and businesses and they are always nice to me. So on a personal level, I like the great majority of them – just like Phelps personally likes most of the other swimmers he competes against. But the bottom line is that these people are my competitors. They are my enemy. I see them in bidding situations and I fight with them for leads. Every time one of these “nice” people win a project over me they’re literally taking food out of my family’s mouth. And I hate them for that.

Despite what he says in public, I know Phelps also feels the same way. He might personally like the other swimmers. But when it’s time to compete he absolutely loathes them. He hates each and every one of them. He wants them all to cramp up and tread water. His focus is on beating them. He is a competitor, a shark, a fighter. He knows that true winners, true gold medal winners, aren’t nice guys. Does the #PhelpsFace look like the expression of a nice guy? It looks like a true, focused, devoted hater of anyone that gets in his way from winning the gold.

Most people are good people. We have kids and we like to talk about football and we all share the same tribulations and trivialities of life. Most of us are nice to each other and it’s genuine. But when it comes time to do business, something should change. You don’t have to hate your competitor personally. But there’s nothing wrong with hating him professionally. A professional hater has his #PhelpsFace on the minute the game’s on. It turns you into a different person – more competitive, more driven, more alive. That’s why Phelps has won so many times. And that’s why we should all be haters too.

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