Some people say that second place is the first loser. That is just not true. To believe that negates all the effort and hard work done to achieve that noble rank. It is demoralizing. It implies that there is only success at the top and nowhere else.
When I was a girl in public school, every student in the class was graded from first to last, the top three honoured with the gift of a book. I was always in the top 5 to 10 but in Grade 7 I passed second! What a thrill to be called to the front of the class for the prized book! I was beside myself with glee as I raced home to tell my mother. I burst through the door with this glorious news on my tongue, arm held high holding my prize, offering it to her breathlessly as proud proof of my accomplishment.
I see it now as I look back almost in slow motion. She grabbed the book, and without even looking at it, threw it on the table as she asked what was wrong with me. Was I never going to pass first? Was I always going to let so and so beat me out? I was devastated! I don’t even know whatever became of that briefly prized possession. I don’t think I ever looked at it again.
My mother, bless her heart, had no idea how that affected me all my life to one degree or another. I believe it was a key precursor that fixed in me a strong issue of poor self-esteem which led to some terrible life choices. I often accepted what I should never have accepted. I continuously sought her assent despite this event and later realized needing approval from others and always settling for less than I deserved, became my personal pit, although I wasn’t fully aware of it. I’m not blaming her. I forgave her a very long time ago. We each must sort through our own baggage and own it. As parents we all do the best we can, what we know. And, I came to understand much later in life that this was probably what she herself knew.
However, early on this experience set me up for a series of seconds in my life. Second place became what I would expect, in a relationship, as an assistant supervisor at work, or as the founder of a not so successful non-profit organization. I was always comparing myself to that other bigger better position.
But here’s the thing. After I got past the excruciating pain of being second in a relationship, I finally learned to make better choices and avoid that pit altogether. I put parameters in place and even cut off a few relationships when the red flags were raised, when in the past I had just ignored them. Being a good assistant manager on the job allowed me to work with the same fantastic group of men and women for over 10 years. Some of us remain close to this day, quite likely an impossible feat had I been a manager. And, as a small hiv/AIDS organization working in Africa, after 7 years we were able to build a house for orphaned children, purchase 55 bikes and backpacks for community health workers and more!
I prayed and labored hard at trying to make this non-profit corporation bigger and better but finally in my heartbreak it became apparent we could go on no longer. There were other local non-profits working in Africa who seemed to be doing so well, often prominent in the local news. I had poured my heart and soul into this and just could not understand why we were not able to find support and move forward. Why were all my efforts in vain? I am not a person who questions the authority of God Almighty, except in this.
Quite some time after I accepted the inevitable, and the bitter dust settled in my heart, someone reminded me that there are no small deeds if done with great love. In fact, I seemed to be reminded of this over and over. My resentment and disappointment eventually dissipated. The sun finally shone brightly on the lessons I had learned in this journey.
Being second afforded me opportunities to glean truths, hold life-long friendships and accomplish far more than I could have any other way. I now prioritize quality over quantity, effort over outcome. I learned that always comparing myself to others only left me with resentment, an unwelcomed burden to bear. Jealousy defocused and diluted my endeavours. I learned that freedom and deep satisfaction comes when you simply do your best. After all, who would have helped those smaller African organizations reach their goals, supporting one family at a time, if we hadn’t? Those folks were who we were destined to serve and assist all along! There are no coincidences. Jesus teaches us not to compare ourselves to others and now I know why, another example of the beauty of aging. There are over 25 verses in the Bible about this and I especially like Galatians 6:4 “Pay attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else.” I have been given the gifts and talents to complete my own assigned task, not yours or anyone else’s.
Sadly however, the world is increasingly competitive but we must carefully raise our children and grandchildren with a more healthy view of competition. In order to do that we must re-evaluate what our priorities are. We must consider the sort of people we are raising our children to be, what character traits we hope to instill in them and what we ourselves exemplify. Are we shaping children who are driven, always seeking approval, with little or no self-contentment, kids who are always trying to climb higher? Those children have no or low self-esteem because approval from others is never enough for personal satisfaction to develop. Or, should a child not be self-confident enough to be able to serve and show kindness to others who perhaps do not measure up to the world’s standards.
With the privilege of aging comes much clearer vision. The person in second place, or tenth place, or last place IS a winner if it was their best effort. Perhaps we should applaud the effort far more than the result.