That’s a good thing; hear me out.
Allow me to point out the obvious: Life’s not fair.
Unless you live off the grid and under a rock (in which case, you’re not reading this) you dwell in a hyper-competitive society. It’s also one that cherishes mutually exclusive beliefs.
From childhood, you’ve been told that with enough hard work and inspiration, you can achieve anything you dream of. It’s an idea that runs smack up against an equally deeply-held notion that in order for there to be winners, there must be losers. And as Vince Lombardi famously said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”
Unless you’re among the outrageously entitled (in which case you’re probably not reading this either) life’s playing field is anything but level. There are people who have more money or more education or more functional families or more powerful connections than you do. Most of us can accept this fact, even if we don’t like it.
What’s harder to accept? Some people have more ability than you do.
At the middle school where I work, there is a recently installed wall-sized mural on the gym’s exterior. I can’t suss out who composed the quotation, but its first three lines read:
Some kids are smarter than you. Some kids have cooler clothes than you. Some kids are better at sports than you are.
It appears that some kids, and some kids’ parents, don’t read past those lines. The new mural has gotten some push-back. “It says there are people who are better than me,” complained one seventh-grade girl who gets straight A’s and plays volleyball and wears cute leggings, as her eyebrows descended. Her mom, who volunteers for everything at school, reacted the same way. So did a few other high-functioning students and their folks.
It seems the worst offender is that first line: some kids are smarter than you. “Smartness” exists on an enormous continuum, of course, and covers multiple areas of intelligence. If we’re being honest, we know for at least some of those areas, some people outpace us. This is true for everyone. I don’t think we do our kids any favors by concealing such a basic fact from them.
We don’t do ourselves any favors either. If it’s not okay with us that others possess talents or aptitudes that we don’t at all, or don’t in such abundant measure, then we leave ourselves bereft of others’ gifts. And if our model of life is competitive (survival of the fittest; to the victor belong the spoils), we condemn ourselves to be envious losers.
Instead, we can be inspired appreciators.
For most of us, it’s perfectly fine that Steph Curry can play basketball better than we can, or that Beyoncé can sing and dance (and earn money) at a level far beyond anything we ever will.
It’s harder, though, to embrace the truth that we know people who are farther along, and may always be, when it comes to the talents and skills with which we personally identify. But if we can swallow that pill, we are freer to benefit from what our, ahem, superiors, can teach us.
I work hard at honing my skills as a writer, and I believe I’m getting better at it as I continually practice and push myself. Still, there are many — so very many — authors who can, and do, write circles around me. Probably they always will.
That’s a good thing. Those folks have a lot to teach me. All I need to do is be humble, open-minded, and pay rapt attention as I read their work.
The same is true for you no matter what your field: business, the arts, sports, medicine, marketing, farming, parenting, or human-beingness. Approaching life as though it’s a zero-sum, winner-take-all game is self-defeating.
Find those people who are better than you at whatever your thing is. Don’t worship them, because I promise you they have their warts too, but observe and appreciate them.
Think of it this way: What if there weren’t people better than you?
I’m sure you are a wonderful person, but if everyone had the exact same measure of skill and talent you did, what would the world look like? Would there be agriculture? Bridges? Opera? Smart phones?
None of those things would exist if everybody were just like me. We’d have food and water and stories, and that’s about it.
I listened to a podcast recently that I found absolutely fascinating. Without getting into the weeds, its topic had to do with consciousness and the nature of reality. Not exactly light stuff, but trust me, it was compelling. And I’m happy to say I followed what the guy, a renowned scientist, was talking about.
Until he got to the part where he mentioned he and his colleagues are working on a mathematical model to test their hypothesis. This is where my brain came to a mile-high wall of solid stone.
See, I appreciate higher math in the way a dog appreciates a can opener. I recognize that it has immense power that can benefit me, but I have no real understanding of why or how, and I depend upon those who have the necessary attributes to operate it.
It makes me a little sad for my well-meaning but limited brain. Mostly, though, it makes me enormously grateful that there are people who can do things I can’t, like come up with a mathematical model to explain consciousness (really? How does one even start to . . . never mind).
Or who can run airlines or do eye surgery or repair car engines. I depend on all of those people. Most likely, I depend on you as well — for one thing, you’re reading this.
Don’t worry about the brightness of your light. Just shine forth.
If we look at life not as a competition but as a vast and wondrous project in which we are all co-creators, we get to be both more content with what we’ve got and more determined to make the most of it.
Here’s what I believe with all my heart: you have a contribution to make to this world, one that only you can make. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here. And in every moment, you get to choose how you will impact others around you.
Here’s what the rest of that mural on the school wall says:
It doesn’t matter. You have your thing too. Be the kid who can get along. Be the kid who is generous. Be the kid who is happy for other people. Be the kid who does the right thing. Be the nice kid.
Those are the things we can all do well if we try. Thank goodness for that, right?