Monday, February 26, 2024

There will always be someone better than you at any given activity, which is really OK (I guess)

The AI Blog Post Image Generator returned this semi-abomination when prompted with the phrase "competitive streak." It was apparently taken from the finals of the Deformed Facial Features Track & Field Championships.

When I was (I think) 10 years old, I won our city's Pitch, Hit and Run competition for my age group.

Pitch, Hit and Run is/was, as the name implies, a baseball-oriented event in which kids would be measured on how accurately they could pitch a ball, how far they could hit it, and how quickly they could run the bases.

It was around the age of 10 when I started getting bigger, stronger and faster than most of the kids in my class at school. I was an early bloomer, so I had an undeniable physiological advantage in all three phases of the game.

Winning at the city level meant I advanced to the Cleveland-area Pitch, Hit and Run held at Edgewater Park, maybe a half hour from our house. I only remember three things about that event:

(1) I didn't perform nearly as well there as I had in my local competition.

(2) All of the boys in my age group appeared to be as physically mature as me.

(3) My brother Mark took me to Cleveland Municipal Stadium after the event and we watched the Cleveland Indians take on the then-California Angels.

I didn't come close to advancing to whatever the next level of Pitch, Hit and Run was, and I do recall being somewhat disappointed by that,

It was my first taste of "big fish, little pond" syndrome, but certainly not my last.

A few years later, while I was a pretty fast runner in middle school track, more than once I ran into kids from other cities who were faster than me.

In high school track, I sometimes made it to the finals of 100 and 200-meter dashes in big meets, but rarely could I win it all because other kids were, again, simply faster.

The same held true for spelling bees, writing competitions and other events throughout high school and college where there were defined winners and losers.

At some point, I inevitably came across someone who was better than me.

Which is both a good lesson to learn and the simple reality for 99% of us. No matter what you do or how well you do it, there is only a very, very small handful of people anywhere who can say they're the undeniable, absolute best at something.

This used to bother me to no end, given my wide competitive streak. I grudgingly accepted that certain people were inherently better and/or worked harder than me to succeed, but it took me years to come to terms with the idea of actually losing to them.

I'm not a big fan of losing even now, but I hated it way more when I was in my teens and 20s, let me tell you.

All of which is to say people like me need to learn to adjust to the reality of the world or else live our lives in seething resentment of the highest achievers.

When you run up against someone with more skill than you, the best approach, of course, is to learn from them. See how they practice and prepare. Understand how they got to where they are. Identify the little things they do that set them apart.

But even then, you also have to concede that they may just be more naturally gifted than you, and there isn't much you can do about that.

As much as I hate to admit it, sometimes getting to the top of the heap simply isn't in the cards.

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