Lesson 17: You Can’t Be The Best at Everything

This column is a spin off from Lesson 8: You’re Never Too Old to Start Something New. In it, I wrote (I can’t believe I’m quoting myself, how cringe…) “You can’t be the best at everything, and you don’t need to be, either.”

As soon as I wrote that sentence, I knew it needed to be an article of its own, but until this week it kind of got left at the bottom of my to-do list.

I talked in this article, as I have throughout my column, about being a perfectionist, about struggling with criticism, and about turning perceived failures into perceived wins or learnings. But, there’s something else: You can’t learn everything in your 20s. At least, that’s what I’ve been told, and I hope it’s true, because I think it’s going to take me more than the next two years to truly learn this lesson.

As soon as I start something new, I want to be the best in the room. I don’t need to be the best in the world, but I want to be the best out of everyone I know. It’s in my nature. That being said, as you can probably guess from the fact that I am indeed not superwoman, this doesn’t often happen.

It would be impossible to be the best at everything, but there’s another power at play here.

Let me take dancing as an example, because I started dancing less than two years ago, at the ripe old age of 26, which was overall a pretty humbling experience.

Of course, when I first started, I could barely put one foot in front of the other. I was counting aloud 1-2-3–5-6-7– and looking down at my feet to make sure they were going in the right order (they usually were not). I remember asking one of my friends to show me the footwork of the basic turn in salsa, which seemed impossible at the time but is now as easy as walking.

Then, as I started to get better, I became one of the best in my beginners class. I started to get this huge thrill from dancing, and thinking “woah, yeah, I can actually do this”. I still remember the first time I felt like I was really dancing rather than just following the steps the teacher had taught me. Exhilarating.

This whole experience left me feeling pretty satisfied and, I’ll be honest, a bit smug. That is, until I joined a new class, one level up from beginners. All of a sudden I was at the bottom again, and I had to work hard just to get to the level of my peers never mind surpass it. Eventually, as you will if you practise at just about anything, I improved and improved until it was time for me to step up a class, and guess what happened… the same thing again.

I had a similar experience with my peers, because I was hanging around with people from my dance classes. Not only did my peers progress with me, but as I moved up classes, I started spending time with dancers who were better and better. Now one of my best friends is a dance teacher, so I’m basically out of the running forever, and there’s some relief to be found in that. I’ve accepted that, for as long as I want to be friends with him (and many other talented dancers that I am honoured to call my friends), I will never be the best dancer in the room. 

Does it matter?

Actually, no.

I get a lot of joy from dancing, and I have from the very beginning. 

I love trying new things, but I hate being bad at them. I hate my Portuguese classes because I can’t string a full sentence yet. I hate using new software at work because I don’t know everything about it yet. The key word here: yet. The more you try, the better you’ll get, and anyone who’s good at anything starts off as a beginner.

But you also don’t need to be the best. Why would I ever need to be the best in the room at dancing if I’m not going to become a professional dancer? Would I enjoy it more that way? I doubt it.

Like I said, there’s some peace to be found in accepting that you’re never going to be the best at something. If you’re always striving for better, or for more, you’re likely to lose some of the enjoyment along the way. 

This is also a lesson in why you shouldn’t compare yourself to other people: If my friend, who is a dance teacher, has been dancing for ten years and I have been dancing for less than two… I mean, what good would it do to compare myself against him?

If you want to improve, you should always look at your past self rather than the people around you. But if you don’t want to improve, that’s okay, too. Not everything has to be done to be perfect; sometimes just to make you happy.

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