I was an adult before I first heard the expression: Second place is the first loser. I felt so sorry for the people who genuinely believed it. I hurt my brain to think that anything other than the BEST is failure. Growing up obsessed with the Olympics, just being of the caliber to be counted in their numbers would have pleased me to no end.
In the movie Better than Chocolate, the mom of the main character mentions that she stopped singing when she realized that she could never be the best. Her new friend, Judy, lets her know that life is about enjoyment not being the best: only a handful of people would ever get to do anything if everyone followed that rule.
Somehow I got the impression growing up that I would never be the best. Rather than feeling sad about it, to me that knowledge was liberating. Why beat myself up over an unattainable goal? I got a B in my first semester of high school. I knew from that moment on that I couldn’t be valedictorian. Did it mean I didn’t try my hardest? Heck no, it’s me after all! I was still obsessed with getting good grades, but it was calming at one level. That stress was lifted from my shoulders. Did I view my academic career in high school as a failure? No way!
As I grew up, I realized that the label “the best” is essentially meaningless: It has to be paired down to such an extent as to be a farce. “I was the best at X on such and such a date in this category.” It reminds me of the Margaret Mead quotation: Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.
This is not to say that I haven’t suffered my fair share of perfection-itis: It defined my life up until I got a clue around age 30 (I feel a future blog post!). For me, however, it was an internal measurement, not a comparison to other people. Whenever I have been able to create “judgement free zones” for myself has made me a happier me. I’m still working on accepting that “good enough” truly is.
What is your relationship with being “the best”? Is enjoying an activity enough for you?
6 thoughts on “First Loser”
maybe it’s because I’m a middle child that I don’t have this drive to be best. Definitely enjoying the process is enough for me. I have an older sister who is very driven and I’m proud of all she’s accomplished and I have a younger brother who is uber-intelligent but has squandered some fantastic opportunities because, at 40 – he’s still smokin pot, philosophically analyzing the society we live in, and chillin. I was the “artsy” one in a family of engineers, MBA’s and a nurse. English? what? creative wriitng? why waste your time? Interior Design? Seriously? So I’ve learned to just enjoy what my right brain bend enjoys, to do MY best – and love to remain curious. In my family – I know I’m “the best” at just enjoying the journey. And yes – that’s enough. Great post Tammy – I’m gonna have to check out that movie. First I’ve heard of it.
Your family definitely follows the birth order model to a “t”. Good for you for going against the current with what worked for you!
I’m the oldest. I’ve often wondered how much that had to do with my drive. I’m definitely learning that “enjoying the journey” is definitely the way to go!
(Author’s Note: Better than Chocolate might not be for everyone. It is a lesbian love story with VERY adult content. I find it very touching, and I’ve seen it many times. It was also partly (mainly?) funded by the Canadian film bureau which has helped some really fantastic small films be made.)
Couldn’t agree more.
I suppose that in my line of work, I should be universally more competitive than I am. But there comes a point at which you can put so much pressure on yourself to reach an unattainable goal that you miss opportunities to learn from being second best or even third best.
That’s not to say I’d ever intentionally try to NOT be the best, but I at least have come to learn that whan you do the best YOU CAN, and you’re consistent about it, you’ll learn so much more that will make you even better the NEXT time.
It is so true that it is easy to lose the forest through the trees in the endless pursuit of the unattainable “best” title. I had never really thought of it in terms of learning different lessons from being different ranks, but that is so true. Thank you for broadening my perspective on the topic!
I’m hoping I’m commenting right… I agree completely, being the best that YOU are capable of is the most important thing. My dad taught me that in sports at a young age – now that I look back on my youth,I realise my dad taught me quite a bit. Great post!
Janice, what an excellent lesson your dad taught you! Putting the focus on our abilities is where it should be, but the win/loss column can easily distracting. How great that you learned it so early.
Thank you for stopping by.