In summer track events often have heats to whittle things down, but most speed based events, you are going directly against your competitors. In winter, several speed events from luge to skiing to speed skating have you going individually, or in pairs, and then waiting as others attempt the same thing. Now yes, I realize this is also similar to gymnastics and figure skating. Originally I was trying to separate out judges versus speed events, but as I think about this some more, judged events may also apply.
So, in an event where you and your competitors are on the same course (or track, or whatever) all at the same time, we all know it's still not fair. Certain positions are more advantageous, you may get jostled or tripped. Your ski might break. Things happen. But, as much as is possible, you and your fellow competitors are working with the same environment, trying to achieve the same goal at the same time. Okay, actually, you are probably trying to beat them to that goal. And if someone has a crazy burst of speed you can see this happen and try to match it. You can see your fellow competitors and the clock or finish line and know, right then, what it will take for you to succeed*.
But in events like luge or speed skating, there might be one other competitor going at the same time as you, or no one. So, you do the very best you can do in that moment and then you sit there and wait. You might set a world record only to watch the next three competitors break that. In other words, you could not only do your best, but do better than anyone ever had in that event and still lose if the people behind you do even better.
I always think athletes must have to develop amazing cognitive separation. Going into a game or event you have to approach it as if you will not only succeed but likely win. You have to be prepared for that moment when all of your competitors literally fall in front of you, or some other less dramatic variation. But after the event, you have to be able to realize that you did what you could, there may be things you can work on, competing was it's own reward and you'll try again some other time. And both attitudes are correct.
Now all of this talk of metaphor is to say that I think this applies to non-athletes as well. There are non-athletic situations where you are doing things that other people are doing and getting different results or rewards. Sometimes there are additional factors, and sometimes, well sometimes it just goes differently for the person on the track behind you or ahead of you. And you have to be ready for opportunities that come to you and accept that sometimes other people are just going to have different success rates.
*Yes, for the purposes of this metaphor we are going to pretend that finishing first is the only definition of success.