You can't be the best at everything
It seems like a rather obvious sentiment, and one that you’d hope would be reassuringly engrained in the subconscious of all of us from a young age.
And yet, I would need far more than two hands to count the number of colleagues (and friends and family members for that matter), who try to be just that – the best. At everything!
Whether it’s a love of competition or the thrill of superiority, people are generally not satisfied with anything short of perfection. If you’re not first past the post, you’re a loser.
“It’s the taking part that counts”, parents used to cry across the playing field to their children as they trudged across the finish line a minute or so after everybody else. But who actually believes that? The truth might be disheartening, as who would enter a race, or competitive environment of any kind, if they didn’t think they had a chance of achieving something?
In a work environment, it’s not the “taking part” that counts - it’s the increased exposure, the recognition, the “something” to jazz up the CV.
The reality is that participation is more often than not, selfish.
The inverse then, is that areas where you aren’t strong can lead to feelings of “why bother?” and “why even try?” If you knew for absolute certainty that you would come stone last in every single race you run, would you continue? What would the benefit be? More importantly, what would that do to your confidence and self-esteem?
I for one have kept schtum about big areas of my life for a long time for this very reason.
I love to draw. I spend hours on end doodling dinosaurs on whatever scraps I can lay my hands on; post-it notes, paper, napkins – I’m not fussy. I find it relaxes me. There’s a certain mindlessness to scribbling the same shapes over and over and over again. I’ve drawn my cartoon dinosaur more times than I care to remember, and for no purpose at all other than for my own momentary gratification.
It’s not something that I share, or thrust upon people, or feel particularly proud of. It’s just something that I do for myself, and myself alone.
It was only this weekend when I questioned that mentality for the first time. Do I not share my love for drawing because it is “for my eyes only”, or because I’m shy, embarrassed, undeserving? Do I not share it because I’m not the best?
Working in a creative field for all of my career, I have had the pleasure of working with some crazily talented designers. Sometimes their efforts feel more like wizardry than work, when they turn a vague and ambiguous brief into something eye-catching, attention-grabbing, and – occasionally – heart-stopping.
I am not in the same league as any of them. I’m not an artist. I’m a hobbyist at best, and I see no point in purporting to be otherwise.
A point I do see though, which has been years in the making, is the value in sharing the things that give you joy. If my illustrations make me smile then there’s a chance, albeit a slim one, that it may make others smile too.
I have an Instagram account for my puppy, Jed. He’s a Cockapoo, not yet 6 months old. He brings the biggest smile to the face of whoever meets him because he is so infectiously happy. He has boundless energy, always greets you at the door and loves snuggling on the sofa with you at the end of a hard day. I feel selfish for keeping him to myself, and so, every week or so I post a few photos of him on Instagram on the off chance they may perk up someone else’s day too.
On Saturday night I drew my first picture of Jed. It’s nothing special, just something that I doodled for twenty minutes whilst listening to the last few tracks of a vinyl record. But it made me smile.
I shared the drawing on Jed’s Instagram account and within seconds a number of comments popped up – “Cute”, one said. “The illustration is excellent”, said another. “Great stuff, your work is absolutely amazing love it!”, stated a third. These comments were from complete strangers, some of whom were on the other side of the world, but who had taken time out of their day / evening / night to compliment my efforts. And they made me smile.
People spend their whole lives trying to be “the best”; the best tennis player, the best footballer, the best scientist, the best musician; the best actor. Whilst there are awards and accolades along the way that may offer that title fleetingly (the Oscars, for example), it will ultimately always be subjective.
If you ask any group who is the greatest footballer of all time, they’re not all going to say the same person. They will like different styles of player, different eras, different personalities. The reason? Value, as beauty, is all in the eye of the beholder.
And so, I have put my artwork out into the world. Not for any accolades, praise or platitudes, but because it is something of value to me and no one can tell me otherwise.