People do things for a myriad of reasons and motivations, but at the end of the day, it generally boils down to fulfillment, meaning, and purpose in this life. No matter how cynical the individual, mankind was made for advancement. We were made with the innate desire to move forward, to advance the state of our species, to strive to be ever greater than we were before.
This quest for fulfillment and for forward progress can be a good thing.
The differentiating factor then is in the semantics of what brings you that fulfillment. What is it that ultimately makes you feel satisfied after having done something? What is it that you're ultimately looking to achieve?
I read a very pointed quote the other day that speaks to that:
"A creative man is fulfilled by accomplishments and a competitive man is fulfilled by beating others"
I love that contrast. While at the end of the day, both men may be accomplishing something, the motivation and drive that propels them to action is critically important. Not just because the competitive man cannot feel a sense of fulfillment on his own, but because the competitive man is not looking for the betterment of others, and hence becomes limited to achievement that is defined by others that he is trying to beat. Because his fulfillment is found in comparison to others, he will always look for the next competition, the next person he can beat to remain fulfilled.
The creative man on the other hand, is a man who finds fulfillment not in beating others or in the praise of others, but rather in having accomplished that which he set out for. There is a saying that sometimes the best reward for having done a thing well is to know that one has indeed done it.
My challenge to you is to consider what you're doing, and why you're doing it. Is it to beat others? Is it to please someone else? Is it to demonstrate that you are worthy of something? That you are better than someone or something? Or is it genuinely for the betterment of others and for the sake of the accomplishment itself?
Ultimately, I want you to live a rich and fulfilled life that is not dependent on others' praise or demise, but rather is made significant by the things that you strive for, and the accomplishments that you achieve. Because that is something honorable, something noble. That is how the world ought to be.