Tuesday, April 10, 2012

2nd Place, 1st Loser?

I've been thinking a lot recently about the events in my life that have led me to where I am today. Not a very unique journey, but as we are on the precipice of T starting a new job this summer, I can't help but think back to other significant transitions in my life.

A common theme? 2nd place.

I say that not to be melodramatic, but just as a general observation of my life.

Case in point:

1. ALWAYS coming in 2nd in all-around scoring-- with M in 1st-- in many years of gymnastics, I can only remember one time when I came out on top, and the dang trophy didn't even say "First" on it. I wrote it on there myself in permanent marker afterwards to make sure everyone knew. Ha!

2. The top-10 students (including M) in my graduating high school class were honored with a special banquet, awards, a newspaper feature-- I was #11.

3. I was cast as the understudy to the lead in our high school musical. I never got an actual lead part (Guess who did? M! Surprise!).

4. Getting wait-listed and eventually rejected from Vanderbilt the first time around. Lots of my fellow alumni have been recently saying, in regards to the ever-increasing competitiveness of admission, "Man! I'd never get into Vanderbilt these days!" to which I respond, "I know! I couldn't even get admitted in 2005!" They laugh uncomfortably.

5. I was hired at my school last year only after 2 previously-hired employees backed out.

Looking at this list, which simply recounts the most significant of many 2nd-place finishes, I'm surprisingly not depressed. Maybe it's because I always tried my best, and maybe it's because I'm older and wiser and all that business. But really, I think it has to do with the greater context of these situations.

Take gymnastics. Yes, I consistently finished runner-up to Monica. But I was also one of the best gymnasts in the state during my year of competing.

So what if I was #11? Out of 500+ kids, that's still darn near the top.

And let's face it-- I was never cut out to be a teacher anyway in a Chicago public school. I'm sure they WOULD have been better with one of the first two people they hired for my position.

But it's Vanderbilt that really puts things into perspective for me. Getting wait-listed and rejected was devastating to me at the time. After all, I was a golden child at my high school. I rocked at the ACTs, I was in the show choir, I had excellent grades, strong recommendations, and many leadership positions. Why wouldn't they want me?

But, they didn't. Until I transferred.

Fast forward 5 years to May 2010 and I'm accepting an award for graduating summa cum laude and being the top student in my major. So much for not being good enough for Vanderbilt, right?

What I take away from these stories is this: you don't have to sit idly by and accept that someone else has judged you as 2nd rate.

I spent years of my life wondering why nothing I ever did was good enough. Cue the perfectionism and anxiety and comparison and panic attacks. I wondered why nothing was going according to plan, why I couldn't just WIN. And these episodes of being runner-up taught me an important lesson: if we allow ourselves to find our value in how we perform, we are setting ourselves up to feel worthless if we don't perform at the top. Looking objectively, I have always been far from a failure. I have always been NEAR the top. But I was convinced that unless I was AT the top, I was the #1 loser. And #1 loser might as well be #1,000,000 cause I was still a loser.

This is where Christ comes in for me. This is where I surrender my preconceived notions about what I want my life to look like and what I want to accomplish through my own strength. By finally accepting that I am pretty much useless outside of Him, I can see my accomplishments through a different lens. Rather than trying to win for the sake of my own pride, I can view any success as a gift that I do not deserve. Rather than wanting accolades and praise from others, I can focus on how my actions fit into the greater plan of being His hands and feet-- and if He wants me to be runner up for whatever reason, I'll be the most grateful runner up that I can be.

And with that, maybe 2nd place isn't so bad after all.

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