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?