Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Intention and Competition

We've all heard the saying "there's always going to be someone better than you", and for the most part I personally have accepted this idea point-blank. When I got a B+ on a math test, I wouldn't be upset if someone got an A- on theirs, because I don't care for math. If I didn't win "Cheerleader of the Year" as a little girl clutching plastic pom-poms, I was okay, because I knew I couldn't even land a cartwheel. But here's the one caveat: there simply can't always be someone better than you. Usually, yeah that's the case, but somewhere in the world there exists someone who is "the best", meaning there's no one better. I guess the key there, though, is who would ever know? The actual scope of people that we have a grasp on is so limited, so there's no way to compare all seven billion of us. Like, you might say the absolute best gymnast that exists is whoever currently holds the Olympic gold medal for gymnastics, but that's only because that person was born in the right place at the right time and for whatever reason could afford to spend time and money in fitness studios and gyms since toddlerhood. For all we know, there's a Tibetan monk hidden away between mountains who really is the best gymnast. But we wouldn't know that, because we don't know that person exists, and by contrast that theoretical Tibetan monk isn't in-tune with Western gymnastics, (because why would he?) but he assumes that there's someone out there that can flip and tumble better than he does. I hope you're following along, because I'm even confusing myself here. I guess what I'm trying to say is maybe we really are the best at something, but we're taught to think that's not the case. And as a result, this belief bounces around, with everyone pointing their fingers at a perceived superior. But with all that in mind, does that mean there's an objective "best" at anything? Like, if God were to intervene, with His wide scope of all 7 billion of us, would he be able to point at a singular individual as "the best mathematician" or "the best cheerleader" or "the best gymnast"? I don't have a conclusive answer, but I do know one thing: I am not the best at anything and it makes me very sad. This is irrational, I understand, but I hate it nonetheless. I'm working on it, though.

This realization has come with my enrollment in Creative Nonfiction Writing this semester. I love the class, and honestly it's the only course in which I have an intrinsic desire to do well. As for my other four classes, I just put in the effort to achieve the instrumental goal of getting an A or a B. But with creative nonfiction, I work hard on my assignments and I come to class prepared because I truly want to practice my writing skills and refine my style. That being said, it's so secret that I love to write--I mean you're reading my writing right now; I wouldn't be typing away if I didn't have some sort of innate desire. I also have been told that I'm a good writer; my teachers, my parents, and my peers have been open with me about their reactions toward my work, and it's generally positive. As a result, I've internalized these messages: I know I have a knack for written expression, but that's when the trouble starts. I'm constantly striving to keep pushing myself and try my hand at different forms, but I can't help but be competitive. If I read a friend's essay or come across a particularly great sentence in a published work, my immediate thought is "wow, that's so good, that's not as good as what I wrote". And oh my God, can we just discuss how much that mentality sucks? It's not healthy for me, and it's not productive. Because in what world does someone else's talent take away from what I bring to the table? It's not like a set out the perfect grilled cheese sandwich and someone else proverbially ate it; it's more like I brought the grilled cheese and they brought the tomato soup. Who doesn't love grilled cheese with tomato soup?! Me, apparently, because here I am reading a classmate's essay and feeling inferior because it's so good. 

On top of that, I've been getting down on myself for not being anyone's "best" friend. It usually doesn't bother me, but lately I've been feeling plagued by the idea that every person I know likes someone else more than they like me. I genuinely find myself running down the list of friends and thinking to myself "okay, I'm really close to this person, but they like x more than they like me." As if that makes me any less awesome. Just because I'm no one's "best friend"--which by the way is a trivial term that we should've outgrown in sixth grade--doesn't mean I'm not awesome. I'm lucky enough to have a lot of wonderful people in my life who love me as much as I love them, so I really need to stop being hung up on the idea of "better" or "best". It's not an easy thing to do, but I vow to try nonetheless.

So here's what I propose: I'm resetting the intention. I need to stop comparing myself to other people, and allowing myself not to be "the best". I think what throws me for a loop is the idea that if I can't be the best in the world, I need to be the best out of the people I know. And that's not any healthier of a parameter. I've learned recently that I'm not the best writer at my university, I'm not the best in my class, and I'm probably not even the best in my group of friends. And guess what? Who cares. There's a quote that is attributed to Buddha (though I doubt Buddha actually said this verbatim) that says "thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreased by being shared." I think I need to apply this type of idea to myself. One person's talent or virtue cannot worsen that of somebody else. I should strive to remember that. I'm awesome, and other people are awesome too. We're all great. Life is great. It's a work in progress, but I'm slowly hopping on that train of thought.

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