On Being “The Best”

Friday, September 14, 2012

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….

27 Responses
  • Jo farrell
    September 14, 2012

    To me your blog is far from ‘middle of the road’. It’s unpretentious and highly readable. One of the reasons it is so good, is because you don’t take yourself too seriously and this is a really endearing quality. Keep up the great (not average) work 🙂

    • Gemma
      September 14, 2012

      Oh, blimey, thank you! I promise this wasn’t meant as a fishing for compliments post 😉

  • Lydia
    September 14, 2012

    Just wanted to say that I think this blog post is first class. Your words ring true for me too as I have always wanted to be a master at something but have always ended up more a ‘jack of all trades’. As you say though this isn’t failure and we should relish every opportunity that comes our way and enjoy giving it our best! Thank you for laying it out so simply 🙂

    • Gemma
      September 14, 2012

      It’s true, some people will be experts, and others will have more general skills. I think you’re only a failure if you don’t even try!

  • Betty1957
    September 14, 2012

    Your blog is on my iGoogle front page so I read it whenever it updates. You have done something with your blog and tweets, which is to get me running. I am a self confessed couch spud but those Zombies really work!
    So, I guess that, metaphorically, I am one of those running behind you…!!! -D,

    • Gemma
      September 14, 2012

      Really?! Cor, that makes me really happy! Both being on your front page and getting you running! I hope you carry on enjoying it! Those Zombies rock!

  • LandGirl1980
    September 14, 2012

    “you’ve only failed if you didn’t give it your best shot.” – LOVE this line. I need this on a t-shirt. Or a badge,

    • Gemma
      September 14, 2012

      I might embroider it on a scarf. (I won’t embroider it on a scarf, I still haven’t finished the embroidery I started for my Dads birthday in 1995)

  • Shona
    September 14, 2012

    I think “best” is a troublesome word, like perfect, because it doesn’t allow for any variations, or improvements and who is judging anyway? Excellent is better. YOU are Excellent!

  • Stephanie
    September 14, 2012

    I really like the athlete analogy. On the flip side of that, it’s cool to hear when the don’t win, but they know that they did their best and it’s ok not to win. It’s so inspiring to watch athletes from smaller countries who don’t have a really strong program but you know that they are so proud just to be there representing their country even if they know they have no chance of getting the gold. In my mind, that’s being a winner too.

  • Mim
    September 14, 2012

    I know how you feel. Everyone else seems to be so much more glamorous than I am, doing wonderful, exciting things – including you, madam! You seem so effortlessly elegant, and rock at carbooting! But you are the very best you, just as I am the very best me, and the only way you can fail to be the best is by trying to be someone else 😀 You’re doing brilliantly.

    • Gemma
      September 14, 2012

      You do know I only post the good photos, right? ;0

      I think everyone feels that way. I know that my dress has holes it in and is covered in crisp crumbs, but no one else notices if you don’t tell them!

  • Sandy P
    September 14, 2012

    I definitely think of you as a winner though!

    You have the drive to do things, whether it’s vintage stuff, running…heck, just getting out there and living.

    I’m probably not in the best place myself at the moment, 2012 isn’t being a good year for me, (neither was 2011 or 2010 come to think of it!!) so I’m in that “jack of all trades, master of none” phase.

    And now I’ve gone all Eeyore on this post…sorreee! LOL!

  • Raquel
    September 14, 2012

    I didnt know your blog, but I think is great. Like the way you write, so understandable 🙂
    Please, keep it on! 😉

    Look at my 5th post: http://doitnaturalnow.blogspot.com.es

  • Franca
    September 14, 2012

    I’m the same. I call it being ambitious, not competitive. Good luck with our new projects!

    • Franca
      September 14, 2012

      *your new projects!

  • simone
    September 14, 2012

    Hiya. I don’t write often, but I always read. I always get a little excited when I get an email saying you have written a new blog entry. I love your updates on life and being fab. I think you are very inspirational and to me this is the best blog in the world.:)

  • Angela
    September 14, 2012

    I was too thick to find a button to “send you a message” or the equivalent so I will comment instead. I subscribed to your blog and get them straight to my e-mail, they are always welcome and highlight my day. I’ve commented only rarely but isn’t that the case when something makes us happy? We speak up readily enough when we are unhappy but forget to laud the ones who brighten up our day in little ways. I am an American who found your blog by accident one day and have felt such a kinship with you and enjoyed every post since. There are a lot of retro and vintage blogs but yours is my favorite. I can’t identify with those paragons that you mentioned in your post but you are honestly yourself and down to earth and that I can relate to, that’s what makes your blog awesome. Imagine that I comment everytime with some equivalent of “Awesome! So gorgeous!” and I will spare you the spam 🙂

  • Janice
    September 14, 2012

    It shouldn’t be about comparing yourself with others, but more about doing your very best, and just being yourself. Besides, with blogs especially we only see what the authors choose us to see, so with everyone I’m sure there’s all kinds of unspoken failures that aren’t talked about.

  • AmyhwasAmyo
    September 14, 2012

    Gosh Gemma what a marvellous post. Really spoke to me, as a first class generalist who’s kinda good at a lot of stuff but brilliant at none… I’ve learned that this isn’t actually a bad thing, keeps life very interesting and varied plus doesn’t build too much pressure.

    It’s brutal when you fail and know it’s because you didn’t try, or prepare or actually haven’t got the skills, but if you give it your level best there’s never any shame and always something for the next try.

    The world would be *so*’dull if everyone was brilliant at everything. Nobody would actually be great and inspiring to others…


  • Miss Peelpants
    September 14, 2012

    I don’t think there’s anything middle-of-the-road about you or your blog. Indeed, many ‘big’ blogs are (in my ‘umble opinion) quite MOR and their success is mainly hype and questionable amounts of comments from people who just want trackbacks and some reflected glory.

    I admire you (and many others) for your get-up-and-go. My problem is (and always has been) my inherent laziness, so anyone with the gumption to actually do things they want to do is someone I am in awe of. And that includes you.

  • Sarah
    September 14, 2012

    Hi Gemma,
    Thank you for this post. I really, really needed to hear it after this week. I get so caught up in te idea that I am a failure if I don’t get the highest marks and spend hours paralysed, worrying that something won’t be good enough. So… thanks for this post. It’s inspiration and realistic and I’m taking it away with me. x
    (also, I don’t think you are middle of the road, I think you are amazing. My vintage friends and I often chat about how incredible you are!)

  • Fi Phillips
    September 15, 2012

    The middle of the road isn’t such a bad place to be. You can see what you might aspire to and also see where you started (and how far you’ve come). The other thing about being in that middle huddle is that each of the runners is an individual, doing their best in their own unique way.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  • Lauren Hill
    September 15, 2012

    I loved this post today Retro Chick, you are so very inspiring! This really helped me focus as I have just started to run my own vintage shop and I kept feeling like everyone was passing judgements but actually they are only trying to help. It helps me realise that I am only as good as I can be my best which Is what I am really trying to be at the moment. It’s such a stark contrast to when I used to work for a Bank, but I will learn so much. Thank you for this post really made me smile today 🙂



  • Suzy
    September 17, 2012

    I also enjoy reading your blog posts – you’re one of only three blogs I follow (along with Vintage-a-peel and Style High Club) and you’re all very good in your own way. I love reading your updates and, like someone else said here, it’s because they’re unpretentious and well written. I think you’ve achieved a lot – I’d love to be able to make a living out of my love of vintage. Keep up the good work! 🙂

  • bonita
    September 18, 2012

    ~ * ♥ * ~

    Ah, have you ever struck a cord with me in this post Gemma. I have this ‘icky’ feeling of not being more successful as a blogger – whatever that means. I’ve figured out that I MIGHT be more successful if I poured much, much more time into my blog, but then I think that I don’t really WANT to do that; this blog is something I do for fun.

    So why do I still feel a bit like I am failing? I don’t know. But I do know that it’s encouraging to hear that other (far more popular too!) bloggers feel like I do; and even better than that, are ok with where they are at. Maybe one day I’ll stop worrying about it, but for the mean time – thank you.

    bonita of Depict This!
    ~ * ♥ * ~

  • Sofia
    September 19, 2012

    I remember hearing a speech from a basketball coach before a game who said that it didn’t matter if they won, as long as they knew within themselves that they had tried their hardest and done the best they could.

    You article reminded me of that one, and I can’t agree more with it. Be your best self, and that is good enough.