It’s a fact of life that someone somewhere, someday is going to come along and will be better than you at something you always thought was ‘your thing’: whether it’s sports, arts, academics, or even a random talent.
My 19-year old learned this the hard way at college, after hearing all her life how much of an achiever she was.
At around two months into her semester away, she called me, with the lump in her throat that I can tell she’s trying to keep down.
“Mom, I ain’t shit,” she said, letting a few sniffles come through. It was unlike her to cuss, but I figured her new environment was a factor and all. I told her to come home in the approaching long holiday.
When she came home, boy did she bawl. Telling me how the other students seemed to be better than her at everything. Where she was at the top of the class in basic education, now she was second, and sometimes; even barely grasping on at third class ranking. At sports, especially track, she was the high school star, but at college even just as an extracurricular she seemed to lag.
“I hate them. It’s like they’re showing me up,” she said, wiping her nose.
The look on her face at the time kind of expected me to side with her, to tell her she was the best and that those other kids probably had to do double time just to match her effort, but she wouldn’t hear that from me. Her late father and grandfather, bless their souls, drilled that into her head growing up; them being extremely competitive sportsmen and college professors, but I figured it would be my time to shine in the advice department.
“Honey,” I said, and I saw that look come through, full of expectancy, “Instead of hating them, why don’t you try learning from them?”
She looked crestfallen. Her own mother, taking the side of the enemies!
“What! But that would be so embarrassing. Dad always said to stick to my guns.”
Needless to say we had a long talk that afternoon. I told her that her fellow college students were not the enemy, in fact if you looked at it from another angle, you could be allies. I guess it can apply to life in general.
Instead of feeling embarrassed that they’re better than you, take it as opportunity to learn from what they’re doing, and maybe it can apply to how you do ‘your’ thing.
Become a team, I told her , and you won’t have to feel like you have to run the show.
“That’s such a huge responsibility you’re putting on yourself that no one asked you to,” I said.
“And think about it honey, aren’t you the one trying to one up everybody when they’re just doing their own thing? You’re making your own head ache.”
I could see, in between sips of coffee, that she was considering what I was telling her.
“Honey, it doesn’t mean you have to be content with mediocrity or not pushing yourself to do better. I’m just saying that you don’t have to compete with other people; just compete with yourself. It’ll take a load off your shoulders when you realize people at school aren’t out to get you,” and gave her a little shoulder rub. “And being humbled is a good thing. It means you’ll never run out of things to learn.”
Thankfully, over the next few months after going back to school, I’ve seen the marked improvement in her personality from that conversation. She’s been bringing new people home, letting me talk to a new friend she made, and isn’t anymore so uptight.