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You're not a loser if you're not number one.
"You're the best!" Who doesn't want to hear this? No matter our age or demographic, we all are conditioned to seek out the best in life and in ourselves. We strive to get into the best schools, find the "best restaurant in town," and score the best job. We are taught to always be chasing self-improvement, and instead of interpreting this as an encouragement to develop the best versions of ourselves, we hear this as a challenge to be the best around. For many of us, this desire for excellency is so deeply ingrained that we feel like losers if we achieve anything less than 100 percent success in our pursuits. Is this a healthy mindset? I don't think so.
Now, I'm not saying we shouldn't try to be our best. That's the point of life, isn't it? Always trying to become a better person? What I'm saying is that sometimes we put too much emphasis on the wrong things. While sacrificing everything to be the top student in your class, are you becoming miserable? Are you sacrificing your close friends in the pursuit of popularity? In chasing some arbitrary bracket for superiority, are you leaving behind the things dearest to you? There's nothing wrong with seeking first place, but don't let it become an all-consuming obsession, and don't dismiss your accomplishments just because someone else did better than you.
None of this is meant to take away from those who genuinely are the best at what they do. J.K Rowling wrote the best-selling book series of all time. Usain Bolt is the fastest man ever. There's nothing to say that you can't be the best in your pursuit of choice. All I'm saying is that it is dangerous to let the pursuit of superiority define who we are, because when we fall short, we feel like failures. Instead of being inspired by our heroes, we feel insignificant next to them; instead of cheering on our friends' successes, we grow jealous of them. It's an alienating mindset, bringing misery to ourselves and to those around us. Eventually, continually falling short of our lofty goals kills our drive to succeed. "No matter how hard I try, it's still never good enough" we cry, and we walk away from something we used to love.
Getting past this mindset, once it has taken hold, is very difficult. I'm writing from experience as someone who grew up struggling with this issue and who still struggles with it from time to time; I've not yet perfectly shed off my obsession with perfection! What I have found, though, is that accepting my place as something other than "number one" is very freeing. Instead of feeling less of myself when a friend is better than me at something, I can share in his or her happiness. And believe me, as a college student, this helps! There are some people whom I'll never be able to compete with, and I'm okay with that. As Tanni Sattar said, “Someone will always be smarter. Someone will always be prettier. Someone will always be younger. But they’ll never be you.”
So, here's my challenge to you: take your desire for success, and fulfill it in the victories of yourself and in your friends. You'll be a happier person for it and a joy to those around you.