Second Place


Danneskjold

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Whoever came up with that concept was a twisted human being. I don't know when the first time someone said "Hey, let's parade the person who has failed to accomplish their year long (perhaps life long) goal in front of as many people as possible while looming the person who beat them over them." The winner doesn't care who is standing below him, he won. Not only does he know that the guy is below him, his goal wasn't to have that guy be below him, his goal was to accomplish what he did. So why torture the guy who didn't win? He got what he deserved, don't parade him in front of everyone for losing. There's a reason cruel and unusual punishment is looked down upon.

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Some of us are glad to "be in the medals" or "be in the ribbons" or "place in the top ten". For those whose goal isn't to "be number one or nothing", it's a pretty good idea!

I've been to a number of concerts where the c.v. of the artist proudly lists "Silver Medalist in XYZ competition, Bronze Medalist in ABC competition, etc."

Judith

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I've got so many silver medals on my shelves, if I decided to sell all the silver from them silver would become practically worthless because the supply is so big. It would be like if the diamond miners released all of their diamonds at the same time.

Why would someone be satisfied with second place? If you got second, all that means is that you could've gotten first, but didn't. In a team sport, I'd rather get KILLED than lose by one, at least if you get killed you know the other team was a better team. When you're close then you know you should've and could've won. You doubt ever move you made, every decision, every moment in time. You're so acutely aware of ever wrong thing you did that you torture yourself for the next week. I can bow to a better opponent, stand up, and work my ass off to beat them next time. When they beat me by a little bit I know that I'm not worse.

I have more try in me than anyone I know, I pride myself on it. I'll collapse on the field before I cut a corner while running, or before I don't go 100%. When I come in second place, my only thought is "should have tried harder." That is the true nature of torture. You amplify and make vivid every part of the last four to eight months that they could have better reached their values, and have them re-live it. That is what second place does to me.

The last time I respected a team or anything else from Russia was when the Russian gymnastics team came in second and acted pissed off about it. I haven't really come in second lately.

Speaking of which, I hate whoever made that rhyme "First is the worst, second is the best." What kind of idiot does that?

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You're planning a career in competitive sports, so you're going to need to learn to deal with this kind of thing.

There are things in your control and things out of your control. And there are relative measures and absolute measures of performance. Let's look at them one at a time, in reverse order.

Are you pleased with your performance? Did you do well? What could you have done better? What will you do differently next time? What did you do really well that you'll remember and do again next time? What did you do well that you can do even better next time? Who on your team can you rely on and who can you count out? If you're a manager, maybe you have to make some hard decisions about letting people go even if they're your friends and even if it means that their families won't eat next week.

Did you win or lose? Either way, was it because you were well and truly the better team/well and truly beaten, or was it because of random or accidental factors? Analyze these factors and then let it go.

Your performance is to a great extent in your control. You can practice weak points, analyze your game, plan strategies, etc.

The other team's performance and random and accidental factors will never be in your control. Won't happen. Never ever. If you go through life allowing things not in your control to make you miserable, you'll (1) be miserable a lot, and (2) allow yourself to get distracted from the things you can control. If you really can't deal with the distinction, competitive sports is a bad career choice. Now's a good time to learn!

There's a lot out there written on sports psychology, and it's very valuable stuff. It's hard enough to master the sport, and at a certain point, once you master the technical aspects of the game (which may be never; you'll probably always continue to perfect the technical aspects), it's mostly a mental game. You need to get out of your own way so that you're free to do your best. Check out some of the stuff on the subject -- it's never too early.

Judith

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Jeff,

Roark would be disappointed!

What are you more concerned with: superiority in relation to OTHERS, or achievement in relation to your own personal potential?

Judith has a point when she says that you're in a very competitive atmosphere, and so, obviously, measuring yourself up to other people is inevitable. But don't confuse it for your standards of measuring SELF-satisfaction.

Awards, stretching down to second, third, and (God forbid!) honorable mentions are not meant to alienate comparatively "less" talented people, but to honor talent and hard work - PERIOD. People who come in second and third have OBVIOUSLY worked hard (especially in large competitions), and even if someone worked a little bit harder, their effort is STILL commendable. You also have to factor in unanticipated circumstances, like bad days, insufficient rest, an uncomfortable and throwing environment - and also, some people are just naturally more talented, gifted with a genetically stronger or faster type of muscle or what have you(which in no way gives one an excuse to slack as a result).

Last year I participated in the Maryland State piano competitions, and came in third place. (Not like, out of the ENTIRE state - the competitions were divided into smaller groups, so there were technically lots of place-winners.) When I learned of my placing, I was more or less ecstatic - BECAUSE: I was completely new at that. I'd only started up piano around 13 years old, and had been under poor instruction for my first two years of playing. I had only actually started performing within the last couple of months, so the event of playing in front of people was additionally nerve-wracking and unfocusing. I guarantee you that pretty much every other person in that room had been playing at least four years longer than I had - and yet only two people could trump me, because I had worked my ASS off. You can't tell me that that's not something to be proud of!

Obviously, as I enter the competitions again this year, I plan to land second or first place. But not to be better than other people - but to improve on my OWN standards.

Competitions are only beneficial in the sense that they give you an idea of how much you have achieved and how much you can improve -- not to condemn you as a failure just because you haven't reached that yet. Never measure you own self-worth by taking into account the worth of others - it's totally irrelevant, and totally stupid.

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Good post, Judith.

A very wise man once told me this little...prayer...er...saying:

God grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change;

courage to change the things I can;

and wisdom to know the difference.

Yeah, that was one of Rand's favorites. I just wish it weren't repeated so many times as to have become a cliche. Sometimes people hear something so many times that they tune it out and don't hear the truth in it any more. I think it was first said by the guy who founded Alcoholics Anonymous, and it's a fantastic, economical summing up of a profound truth.

Judith

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...improve on my OWN standards.

Thank you, that needed to be said! I've never thought about being better than other people, but being better than I was the day before.

Congrats on placing in that piano competition.

Good post, Judith.

A very wise man once told me this little...prayer...er...saying:

God grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change;

courage to change the things I can;

and wisdom to know the difference.

Yeah, that was one of Rand's favorites. I just wish it weren't repeated so many times as to have become a cliche. Sometimes people hear something so many times that they tune it out and don't hear the truth in it any more. I think it was first said by the guy who founded Alcoholics Anonymous, and it's a fantastic, economical summing up of a profound truth.

Judith

Well, I just heard about this, so I can still hear the truth. :)

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You misunderstand. I couldn't care less about the guy across from me. If I lost, it's because I wasn't perfect. I'm not satisfied when I win, but I'm far less satisfied when I lose. Not to mention, as I said, the silver medal just amplifies it.

Yes, I know the intentions of the people giving out silvers isn't to make fun of the people with the silver medal, but that's what it feels like when you're up there.

Elizabeth is right, competitions are useful in telling you what you can achieve. Every time I acheive second place, it means I haven't achieved anywhere near enouh.

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Jeff,

I have no medals on my shelf. I was kicked out of the debating team in year 12 for, essentially, not being a 'good example of the school community' (my ability, displayed in a brilliant previous debate, obviously didn't matter). I have not one tangible prize from any competition. Zip. Zero. Zilch.

I was once bitter about it.

Then I realized,

1) competing with other people presupposed that I want to beat them. I dont care about them, they might as well be dead to me. If you want to compete against something objective, just have someone time your individual running.

2) competing with others also extends to them some element of equality (I de facto considered them worthy opponents). When I realized their corruption, their inability to think for themselves, I realized they werent worthy to lick the scum off my boot.

3) competing for a prize presupposes granting some sort of authority to the party that issues the prizes. I dont grant authority over me.

Now, visibility is a value. We value receiving the adulation that we deserve. But this requires someone with similar values. As far as Im concerned, people that refuse to recognize my nobility are only passing a judgement on themselves: they are proclaiming their ignorance (or evasion) at a high volume.

Also remember, placings are relative. It is not a matter of "if I lost, that means I am not perfect." The winner proved that he was better at one task than the other competitors. That is all. He did not prove he was 'perfect' at that task. Also, lets remember that physical abilities and moral perfection are different matters.

Being desperate to beat others is second-handing. Dont sink to that level Jeff, you know you are better than that.

Also, as both Ayn Rand and Benedict de Spinoza would say, if you love the good in yourself, you should love it in others. Congratulate the winner. If he doesn't appreciate the gesture, that demonstrates his utter depravity.

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I'm thinking you guys don't exactly get what I'm talking about.

The nature of what I do and what I want to do requires competition. Sports are competitive things, they require that I compete. Not competing is not an option. I love what I do.

I don't care who beat me, or how. If they beat me, I wasn't perfect. I strive for perfection. The fact that they beat me does not make me dislike them, I can't dislike someone for being better than me, if they are better than me that's my fault.

Playing for a prize is only granting authority to the people who respect the nature of a competition, and therefore is respecting only the nature of competition itself. The nature of a competition is that the person who did better will come out on top. When the party giving out medals ceases to respect the nature of competition, I cease to respect the prize.

I am not railing against second place, I'm railing against putting the person in second place up on a pedestal which, for me, serves to make me more acutely aware of every thing I did wrong. Second place is failure, treating it like a victory is just patronizing.

I do have two gold medals on my shelf. I don't count either of them. Why? Because they were gold medals from when I played a minimal role (9-10 all-stars in baseball, 7th grade travelling basketball). I didn't play well enough to deserve those (possible exception being the 9-10 all-stars but the coach's sons all got to play), there were a million kids who deserved those in front of me.

It's not about the gold, it's about perfection. However, if you are perfect you'll get the gold. Treating second place like a victory is making it something that it's not.

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It's not about the gold, it's about perfection. However, if you are perfect you'll get the gold. Treating second place like a victory is making it something that it's not.

It is a loooooooooooooooooooooooooong road to perfection, with lots of stops on the way. Every single stop is a victory - and second places are stops. Learn to celebrate yourself more.

Plus, perfection in terms of skill . . . is almost undefinable. There is ALWAYS something you can do more, something you can do better. Make sure that if perfection is your goal, you specifically define it - like, how fast you should run to consider that perfect, how well you play...but then again, all that is STILL relative and can be improved upon. I would say the only real, objective perfection available to people is in the moral field, in the extent to which you adhere to your values - which in stuff like sports and music only deals with effort. Make sure you focus on that.

~Elizabeth

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Second place is failure when first place was achievable. If you gave it your all, that really is first place. There is always someone better than you in one respect or another. He might get second place and you third, but if you gave your all and he didn't then he failed and you didn't. Also, failures are the foundation for subsequent success. The baby doesn't give up trying to walk because he keeps falling down, crawl to a corner and curl up into a ball of depression thinking he'll never be able to hack it and suffer the effects of low self-esteem. Competition is also about building mental muscles, the true source of self-esteem. To define oneself in relation to others is a basic mistake leading to secondhandism. A competitor is only a training aid and a yardstick. The rest is self-referential.

--Brant

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Perfection is not possible. Even if you finish first in a world championship you are not perfect. There will be always someone who will do better, even if there wasn't anyone doing better there at that specific moment. If you have the bad luck that at the same moment there is someone who is just better than you'll ever be able to become, a second place is as good as a first place if this is the maximum performance you can attain. There is no objective absolute standard for performance, only a relative standard by comparison with the performance of other people. In virtually all cases there will be people who will be able to outperform you, so the only way to get a gold medal is to compete in a limited competition, and having the luck that there are no better players there at that time. Otherwise you should never be satisfied until you are a world champion.

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[One] misconception—[regarding "self-esteem"]—is the belief that the measure of our personal worth is our external achievements. This is an understandable error to make but it is an error nonetheless. We admire achievements, in ourselves and in others, and it is natural and appropriate to do so. But this is not the same thing as saying that our achievements are the measure or grounds of our self-esteem. The root of our self-esteem is not our achievements per se but those internally generated practices that make it possible for us to achieve. How much we will achieve in the world is not fully in our control. An economic depression can temporarily put us out of work. A depression cannot take away the resourcefulness that will allow us sooner or later to find another or go into business for ourselves. "Resourcefulness" is not an achievement in the world (although it may result in that); it is an action in consciousness—and it is here that self-esteem is generated.

RCR

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I'm thinking you guys don't exactly get what I'm talking about.

Could be. We're working on it...

I don't care who beat me, or how. If they beat me, I wasn't perfect. I strive for perfection. The fact that they beat me does not make me dislike them, I can't dislike someone for being better than me, if they are better than me that's my fault.

Striving for perfection is a good thing. Being miserable with anything less than perfection isn't. You'll run out of spiritual fuel very quickly and not have anything to motivate your drive for perfection, and you'll never get there.

You need to be very practical about this. You have to see the reality both of the task and of yourself as a finite organism. Your spirit is not infinitely malleable and cannot take infinte bullying. If you keep beating yourself up over being less than perfect you'll never have the motivation to take the steps required to get closer to perfection.

Getting closer to perfection requires a series of discrete steps. You need to define those steps, and you need to allow yourself to feel good about achieving those steps. That's not lying to yourself, or babying yourself, or kidding yourself about insignificant achievements. The achievements are real, and the need to feel good about them is a simple reality of your psyche. Denying it is like cutting off your own legs, and just as counterproductive.

You want to win. Winning is a very vague goal. It requires different things on different days. Who is your opponent? What are his strengths and weaknesses? What are your strengths and weaknesses? First and foremost, work on yourself. Then study your opponent. Then study your venue -- the field, where the sun might be, your equipment, etc. Knowing you're prepared in terms of all that, and in terms of your mental game will go a long way. Learn to lose a game and know that it's not the end of the world and that there's next time -- develop perspective and learn to think in terms of a season and not a single game.

Above all -- and this might be difficult; it's something most people don't learn until their early 20s at least and sometime not until their early 30s -- learn to separate yourself from your performance. You are not your success or your failures; your value doesn't depend on winning or losing. Try to detach yourself from the performance beforehand and afterwards -- not during, obviously! -- and watch yourself from a third person perspective and analyze it.

I am not railing against second place, I'm railing against putting the person in second place up on a pedestal which, for me, serves to make me more acutely aware of every thing I did wrong. Second place is failure, treating it like a victory is just patronizing.

This part I understand; if you're not interested in that level of achievement, then it doesn't mean anything to you. Understand, however, that to people who may not ever get that high, it may in fact mean something to get even that far.

I do have two gold medals on my shelf. I don't count either of them. Why? Because they were gold medals from when I played a minimal role (9-10 all-stars in baseball, 7th grade travelling basketball). I didn't play well enough to deserve those (possible exception being the 9-10 all-stars but the coach's sons all got to play), there were a million kids who deserved those in front of me.

Again, this I understand; having an award for something that to you really isn't anything is meaningless. I've got some of those too. If you think you didn't do anything to deserve it, it's just a dust-collector.

Judith

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Second place is failure when first place was achievable. If you gave it your all, that really is first place. There is always someone better than you in one respect or another. He might get second place and you third, but if you gave your all and he didn't then he failed and you didn't. Also, failures are the foundation for subsequent success. The baby doesn't give up trying to walk because he keeps falling down, crawl to a corner and curl up into a ball of depression thinking he'll never be able to hack it and suffer the effects of low self-esteem. Competition is also about building mental muscles, the true source of self-esteem. To define oneself in relation to others is a basic mistake leading to secondhandism. A competitor is only a training aid and a yardstick. The rest is self-referential.

--Brant

Who said a thing in the world about crawling into a corner and curling up. I hate failure, but I'm not weak. I forge through it, and I continue to strive towards perfection.

Dragonfly,

Perfection is not possible. Even if you finish first in a world championship you are not perfect. There will be always someone who will do better, even if there wasn't anyone doing better there at that specific moment. If you have the bad luck that at the same moment there is someone who is just better than you'll ever be able to become, a second place is as good as a first place if this is the maximum performance you can attain. There is no objective absolute standard for performance, only a relative standard by comparison with the performance of other people. In virtually all cases there will be people who will be able to outperform you, so the only way to get a gold medal is to compete in a limited competition, and having the luck that there are no better players there at that time. Otherwise you should never be satisfied until you are a world champion.
At some point, there has to be a best. However, you jump from perfection to a world championship. That's is a bad comparison. In any case, why would perfection be impossible? What is stopping a human being from acheiving it?

From the Nathaniel Branden quote,

[One] misconception—[regarding "self-esteem"]—is the belief that the measure of our personal worth is our external achievements. This is an understandable error to make but it is an error nonetheless. We admire achievements, in ourselves and in others, and it is natural and appropriate to do so. But this is not the same thing as saying that our achievements are the measure or grounds of our self-esteem. The root of our self-esteem is not our achievements per se but those internally generated practices that make it possible for us to achieve. How much we will achieve in the world is not fully in our control. An economic depression can temporarily put us out of work. A depression cannot take away the resourcefulness that will allow us sooner or later to find another or go into business for ourselves. "Resourcefulness" is not an achievement in the world (although it may result in that); it is an action in consciousness—and it is here that self-esteem is generated.

I couldn't have any self-esteem if I didn't strive for perfection. It's not in me to not try my hardest at everything I care about.

Judith,

I feel great about my acheivements. I feel horrible when someone patronizes me. I don't want it.

Michael,

I can congratulate the winner, shake his hand, look him in the eye, and respect him. My problem isn't with the winner, my problem is with my shoddy performance.

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Judith,

I feel great about my acheivements. I feel horrible when someone patronizes me. I don't want it.

That I understand. Sometimes we have to play nice and go along because the rules of sportsmanship require it, but it sucks all the same, and I understand!

There's no rule, however, saying you have to clutter up your trophy cabinet with trophies you don't want; toss 'em out if they don't mean anything to you, and keep the ones that mean something! You're bound to collect enough of those.

Judith

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Since the Oscars are Sunday we will hear the refrain "But it's a great honor just to be nominated". It is but it's a bigger honor to win. Ernest Borgnine gets invited out and an occasional part because he won an Oscar.

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I can congratulate the winner, shake his hand, look him in the eye, and respect him. My problem isn't with the winner, my problem is with my shoddy performance.

Jeff,

I have walked into my dressing room after conducting a concert where the audience was still applauding and calling for encore and spit in the mirror, so I know exactly what you mean. (I have also conducted a few times where I knew I could do no better and there is nothing on earth like that feeling.) That is why I said I can understand.

Be real careful with one thing, though: faking reality. You can fake it both ways and both ways do you harm. But your no-excuses attitude gives you an edge, so go for it.

Still, I advise to always pay attention and try not to hurt yourself by pushing harder than you can really do. It's not always easy to detect the limit. And be careful with the point of diminishing returns. Pushing yourself real hard at that time will pull you down for the long count.

Michael

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