First is the worst
Second is the best
Third is the one with the treasure chest
Songs like these are ever present on playgrounds, schoolyards, and classrooms all across the country.
Because I am a blogger, and I search for truth in all things I am starting to think of how this childhood tune could apply to my life.
During this current season of life, I am simplifying. It’s a purging of all things providing excess. Loosely I am journeying towards minimalism. I say loosely because I am only partially in control of my space. More on that in a later post.
But I am in control of my thoughts, patterns, and ideas surrounding things. Life.
As are you.
As an athlete, we welcome the journey towards something new. The chase if you would. The adrenaline that accompanies chasing someone down in a race, the surge that fills your body when you score the game-winning shot, the undeniable source of joy when you have secured the rightful spot you feel you deserve in competition. Yes, you know what I am talking about. I am talking about finishing first.
The chase for first place is evident in sport and life. Consider for a second the "American Dream". The American dream is one that many Americans achieve. A home, 2.5 kids and a dog. That is the chase too. The chase for first place.
Lately, I have been giving more thought to second and even third place.
Thinking back on the childhood rhyme above, what is it worth to finish first if it is considered the worst. Kind of like what is it worth to gain the whole wide world then lose your soul.
I think this is worth examining. If you think so too, join me. Keeping reading as we uncover how your performance shapes your person and if first place is indeed worth pursuing.
Obtaining this position is hard. Plain and simple. Only very few athletes will achieve first and it is likely they won't stay there long. The target is on your back. The hunting pack is ravenous and deep.The journey to the top was pretty steep, but you prevailed.
What did it cost? Friendships, parties, muscle pain and strains and money.
Was it worth it? Yes. Absolutely, positively yes.
What will it take to stay there? Everything is cost you to get there.
That is the hardest part is staying at the top. The realization is this. It doesn’t last forever. Remember, you are being hunted, by everyone. A lot of attention is given to the grind, the hustle, the journey, the climb. Much research, time, energy and effort are thrown towards this goal. However, I think there is a disconnect in the efforts pushed towards educating people on how to stay there.
Casey Neistat is one of YouTube’s first stars. Originally from Connecticut (represent), Neistat is no stranger to the grind. High school dropout and teen parent, Neistat took on odd jobs to provide for his young family. Early on Neistat knew he was created for more. He was created to create. Not humans but content, digital content that would encourage, inspire and impact a global audience.
Fast forward 18 years, and he has accomplished all of what he set out to and more. When interviewed just after his company, Beam was sold to NBC for something crazy like 10 million he had this to say about “making it.” Casey said he had success early and then he celebrated.
You see Neistat’s initial success was a result of a movie he and his brother created and sold to HBO. He became a millionaire before his 21st birthday. How awesome is that? But then Neistat committed a cardinal sin. At least, in his book. He chilled. Celebrated. He pressed pause. Neistat agrees that this was the most significant mistake he made. Once you make it to the top, the work doesn't stop. It is merely just beginning.
You thought the climb was hard, but it is the chase that requires you to triumph. How fast do you run when no one is chasing you? Not very fast. That’s what happens when you’ve made it. If you are not intentional, once you have paved your path to the top, you stop.
The point of sharing Neistat’s story was not to get him more subscribers on YouTube. He already has like 5 million. The intent was to demonstrate that finishing first is not an arrival, it is a departure.
To stay at the top, you have to view it from a wide angle. A lens that is zoomed out enough that you can see your future. You can see who you want to become not who you are.
As an athlete, you are innately wired to want to be the best. Don't' misunderstand the intent of this article. I am not encouraging you to not strive for that. However, I am challenging you to consider your perspective. What happens when you finish first? How does that transform you? Does it alter your perception of your persona at all?
Are you like Casey Neistat and rob yourself of celebrating because of the fear of complacency or do you let yourself celebrate? Celebrate because you deserve it. Because you deserve to relish in the fruits of your labor.
Could it be that first place isn’t really what it is cracked up to be?
Maybe first really is the worst like our playground tune suggested.
Not being able to celebrate, being chased and arriving at complacency all sound pretty negative to me.
Truthfully first place is still pretty impressive but what about second.
Second Place, Heck Yeah
One of my favorite movies is Bring It On. In the film, Kristen Dunst plays the role of Captain of a very successful high school cheerleading program. Unbeknownst to her, the team's success was couched in fraud.
Once Dunst learns that their national championships are a result of stolen routines she decides enough is enough. Dunst sets out to rebuild the program, from the ground up. One the course o fate movie Dunst is met with resistance from her squad, finance issues, and a cheating boyfriend. None of which were able to stop her in her pursuit of returning to the top of the podium.
At the National Championships Dunst and her team finish second. For a minute, it looks as if the team has just had all the air let out of their tires then one of then Dunst says, “ Second place, Heck (not original word) yeah.”The squad erupts in cheers and runs across the floor to accept their trophy.
I love this story because it's ability to celebrate the triumph. Contrary to popular belief, the path to success is rarely linear. Everyone is gunning for first place, but only one will achieve it. Far to often second place isn’t good enough but in this example, we see that it is.
Second place should be a place worth celebrating too. In reality, only one person is ahead of you. In the previous section, we talked about how the first place finisher isn’t celebrating either out of concern for you. Concern that their victory will be short lived because you are chasing them. You are out for their spot.
You see no one is really striving for second place. You can settle there. At least for a bit. There is space to review the journey, pay respect to the process and make some notes towards securing first.
Second, best is a victory. But like first place, it is not an arrival but a departure.
Third Is Place With The Treasure Chest
I’m not sure I understand why or how third place receives the treasure chest but this I do know. Third place is still on the podium. Third place finish is awarded a medal, just like first and second. The only difference, it is bronze. In professional sports, the third-place finisher is often still handsomely rewarded. Talking about treasure chests, let's just look at the purse given to the top three ranked women's in the world last year in tennis.
The Women’s Tennis Association, also known as The WTA, ranked the following three singles players this way:
#1 Caroline Wozniacki. Wozniacki earned $3,225,104 in 2017 and her Career Winnings total $30,059,798
#2 Simon Halep. Halep earned $1,841,498 in 2017 and her Career Winnings total $22,577,513.
#3 Garbiñe Muguruza. Murfuruza earned $397,633 in 2017, and her Career Winnings total 15,914,255.
Is there disparity among them? Yes! Are they all still millionaires? Yes!
The point is each of these women can boast that they are the top three in the world. They are the top three in their respective specialties and making plenty money.
Just like you, they will trade wins and losses throughout the season and without certainty throughout their career. What the people on the top of the podium have one thing in common, the drive to be there.
The pursuit to be the very best at a thing can take you there. For some, that means waking up at 3:10 am every single day to do your passion work before the rest of the world wakes up. For you, that may mean staying after practice to have a debrief session with your coach concerning your last competition.
The difference between your first place finish and your third is likely just the day. In my personal opinion, we give so much authority to things that are at best, a lucky guess. For example, anyone who picked the Philadelphia Eagles to win the Super Bowl over the New England Patriots this year, lucky guessers. No disrespect to the Philadelphia Eagle Organization but it was their day. Just saying.
Bringing It All Home
In athletics, you will be challenged, physically, emotionally, intellectually. Your ability to rise to the challenge will influence the likelihood of your finishing on top. Not necessarily on top of the podium but at the top of your game.
As I alluded to earlier, the trouble with finishing first is it is nowhere else for you to go. Unfortunately, staying at the top is typically short-lived. There is a pack of hungry athletes chasing after one coveted spot. First place.
My advice to you, don’t be in the pack.
Realize that the victory isn’t in the finish, it is in the journey. The place you finish in the tournament, track meet or at your gymnastics competition is only one piece of the puzzle, your puzzle.
What you have to offer the world is not limited to performance. Athletics is a source of entertainment, and you are a source of life. Your talents and gifts are an offering not only to others but to you too.
Finishing first, second or third is an accomplishment. So is every other place that you arrive at as a result of your best effort.
When you get the chance, enjoy the sweet victory of finishing first.
When you get the chance, be thankful for second best.
When you get the chance, recognize that even third place is a reward.
You see from your position on the podium whether it be first or third, the view is pretty sweet. At the very least you are a step above the rest. Appreciate it. Celebrate it. Celebrate you.
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