On Being “The Best”

I know so many people that can do amazing things.

It’s inspirational to read blogs from people who are just fantastic at what they do. They’re experts in vintage fashion history and know every label and collection since the 1920s or have an astonishing ability to knock up new frock in an hour from some left over bits of materials.

But sometimes, just sometimes, it makes me feel rubbish. Because I can’t do anything really amazing.

I’m not, and have never been, top of my game in anything, being quite determinedly middle of the road. Not top of the class, but not bottom (apart from in Maths and French, but even then I made it out with a B at GCSE); not the fattest, or the thinnest; not the fittest, or the lazy slob. I’m not bad at stuff, but I never really excel either.

I’m very proud of this blog, and the other things I’ve achieved, but it isn’t the top blog in the world, or even the UK. Some posts get a good reaction and lots of comments, other times no one cares. I don’t inspire slavish devotion or snarling hatred (often). I’m a definite middle of the pack kind of gal.

But, I don’t mind that.

I am a competitive person. I think everyone who ever achieved anything has to be on some level, what else drives you forward? Being competitive doesn’t mean feeling the urge to prove you’re better than everyone else, it means knowing how good you are, how good you can be, and not letting anything hold you back. It’s about achieving your best, and sometimes it’s about letting what other people have achieved redefine what your best could actually be.

The reason I was so nervous before my 5k “fun” run last Sunday was because of that competition. I harboured no hilarious thoughts about coming first. I didn’t want to come last, but I didn’t want anyone else to come last either, I just knew I could do better. It’s competition with yourself, not with others.

I saw several interviews with with athletes during the Olympics who came outside the top 3 who’ve said variations on the idea of “I just wasn’t good enough today. I’ll go away, review what I’ve done, learn and improve”. Sometimes they’re cross with themselves because they knew they could do better, but they’re always focused on their own performance, not what others are doing, unless it’s a simple polite comment about what a great performer they are. They’re not angry at the winners, they’re sorry they didn’t try harder, train harder, or they’re wondering if they can ever be that good.

The winners and record holders set bench marks for others to hit, but that doesn’t mean they stop trying. A competitive spirit means they’re always pushing to be better, improve themselves and their performance.

In 1964 the World Record for the Men’s 100m was 10.06 seconds. Now that speed wouldn’t even have got them into the final. The lesson here is that today’s winners are tomorrows losers. No one is on top forever.

In 2001 in his first international competitive performance Usain Bolt failed to qualify for the 200m finals. Now he’s the world record holder. The lesson here is just because you’re not the winner now doesn’t mean you’re no good and you shouldn’t keep trying.

I think it’s important to remember that not being an Olympic finalist is fine, what’s important is to know you’re really doing the best you can. You might be last, but there’s hundreds and thousands of people behind you that you can’t see because they never got started. While you’re looking at the front runners for inspiration, behind you there are people looking at you, and even those that come last can be an inspiration to those that are yet to start. Never let fear of failure stop you starting.

Hard work and dedication alone don’t make winners, there’s always a huge dose of luck involved as well. You might break the world record, but in the same race someone else might break it a bit faster.

Unfortunately life in general isn’t as simple as the Olympics. They don’t line us all up, fire a gun and pick a final winner, there’s no points awarded by an independent panel of our peers and there are no winners and losers. Sometimes this can make us feel a bit lost.  Are we good enough? How do we know if we’re the best, or even in the final? We might be up in one area of our lives while elsewhere we feel like everything is falling apart at the seams.

At the moment, having just moved house, everything is completely up in the air. I feel like I haven’t been giving some of my work the attention it deserves and I want to give it and I feel like I’m failing. At the same time I’m feeling inspired by new things and keen to take on new projects in other areas, but I am scared that I might fail and look stupid.

When things seem complicated I try and remember life will always be a series of challenges, take each one at a time, learn it’s lessons. Celebrate the little “wins” and don’t stress about the little failures.

Don’t let other people define you and what you can and can’t do, but don’t dismiss the lessons they can teach you either. Change direction, or slow down if you need to. But you’ve only failed if you didn’t give it your best shot.

Being second doesn’t always mean you’re second best.

Or maybe I’m just saying that because I’m very likely to come last in a 10k come October….

Visit my lovely sponsor