Anyone who knows me will be surprised by the title of this essay. Second place? Am I actually suggesting that good enough is, well, good enough?
Let me explain.
I believe in striving for excellence. And I will never stop pushing myself, my children, my students and anyone else who crosses my sphere of influence to be the very best that they can be and to, of course, strive for FIRST PLACE!
But, suppose our very best efforts don’t earn us the coveted award and honors for which we’re competing? The reality is only one student gets “Student of the Year.” Only a handful get to be in the top ten. Only a fraction will be in the highest percentile. So what about the rest of us? Are we failures?
As I listen to parents and grandparents brag about their prodigies who’ve snagged the precious few scholarships set aside for the deserving few and smugly imply that “those other poor kids who didn’t make it will have to just fend for themselves,” I can’t help but think about all those “other poor kids” who fall within that broad spectrum called “second place.” Now, mind you, I’m not talking about the barely-getting-by C students, the I-don’t-really-want-to-be-in-college-anyway company. I’m talking about the better-than-average assembly. The hard As-maybe-an-occasional-B bunch. The, no-it-doesn’t-come-easy-but-I’m-disciplined-focused-and-hard-working crew. Or the no-it-doesn’t-come-easy-but-I-study-cause-mom-and-dad-are-always-on-my-case cadre! What do these groups get? A pat on the back and a handshake? A “nice job, but sorry you’re not good enough”? Do you only deserve accolades if you’re brilliant beyond words? Are you only worthy of note if your GPA is off the charts and your standardized test scores are record-breaking? Does it count for anything if you’re articulate, personable, make friends easily and not too bad at solving equations?
I certainly don’t have anything against the brilliant and beautiful minds, I just think we’ve spent so much time trying to make our kids into the crème de la crème that we haven’t given them any credit for being a hearty cup of milk! But, according to the dairy industry “milk does a body good!” My point is, why not give the better-than-average second place a little more credit–even praise!? How about an “A” for their effort? Why should we praise the kid who can do algorithims in his sleep and not praise the kid who puts in extra work, maybe even hires a tutor and practices tirelessly to get it right? But rather than acknowledge the hard work that went into the B+ we only honor the easy A.
Well, I’m here to make a case for second place. I’m here to vouch for the hard-earned B, to give a shout-out to all those who have other gifts–the gift of gab, the gift of personality, the gift of diligence, consistency and hard work. These gifts are not measured by SATs or GREs, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have value, and you can be sure that not everyone has these gifts. Did you know that some of the most “brilliant” people are not so fun to be around? Often they are quite the opposite, but no one wants to talk about that. We hail them for their brilliance and ignore the fact that they are socially-awkward or devoid of basic personal skills. I’m not throwing shade, I’m making a point. My point is, let’s stop with the hierarchies–acting as if the brilliant ones are better than the rest of us, or even as if we are better than them! How about they have their strengths and we have ours?
Let’s stop putting pressure on our kids to be what they’re not. Let them be who they are. Let them be the best that they are.
And stop bragging about how your kid made the highest score on the SAT. Whoopee! He’s a great test-taker! My kid knows how to make people feel good about themselves and they like to be around her. Whoopee! She’s a great people-person! Which one should be in first place?
I’m making a case for second place.