On Being Second Best

Something that’s been on my mind lately has been the realisation that I’m not the best at a lot of things, and I probably never will be.

 

This bothered me immensely for many years – I thought that my value was being the best at something in a particular group of people, and then being the guy that did that thing. I’d “specialise” in groups at work so that I could run group activities, or I’d be the guy to turn to about hearing voices, or fixing computers, or having a caring and insightful ear. Imagine my horror to discover that there were other people at work who were better group facilitators, had worked with voices for longer, knew more about computers and were far wiser and more profound in their insight than I could ever imagine.

 

It made me feel redundant. I felt like a slightly less delicious cake at a banquet of exquisite desserts. Why would anyone choose to eat me when all around me were superior samples that I was only a poor shade of? Thinking along these lines made me seriously consider handing in my resignation and just find somewhere else where I was the best at stuff so that I could be valued.

 

It took me several weeks, maybe months, to recognise a few flaws in my thinking.

 

Firstly, I compared it to a game of Fire Emblem. Just because Ike or Titania are the strongest doesn’t mean that the other characters aren’t useful. Sometimes while the General is blocking off a choke point, you want lieutenants guarding the flank, healers in the back line, archers on the ridges and so forth. Yes it’s true, some units aren’t great at anything and they’re best left in the base or not brought at all. For the most part though, you can’t win a battle with just one soldier, no matter how strong they are; it’s the team with its many strengths that pulls through. And it doesn’t matter if some of these strengths overlap – sometimes you want three tanks in a squad, other times you only want cavalry. They’re all useful in different scenarios.

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Secondly I came up with this hypothetical: If I was the second-kindest person in the world, would it be worth being kind at all because I wasn’t the best at it? Of course it would be. Kindness is never wasted. Just because someone is better at something doesn’t mean you’re not worth it too. Like, just because someone donated $10 million, doesn’t mean a donation of $9 million won’t be sincerely valued.

 

Thirdly, I realised that even if you are the best at something at a given time in given company, it doesn’t make it your job to take over. If a friend is cooking me dinner and they’re not very good at cooking, it is absolutely not my responsibility to take the knife out of their hands and do it for them. It’s more important we all get along than we do something “the best”.

 

At the end of the day, each of us does our best to meet our needs in everything we do. It’s more important we celebrate what we do rather than compare ourselves to those around us.

EDIT: Or, to put it in the words of my teacher: “Do your best to be your best. Comparisons with others is meaningless.”

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