Does anyone like coming in last? Thinking about it stirs up all kinds of negative imagery and conjures up words like- demeaning, demoralizing and depressing. The trifecta of “D’’s.” But is it really? Does coming in last have to be awful?
Our culture, whether we like it not, is success driven. We applaud being the best and abhor being the worst, professionally and personally. It’s ingrained to do our best, but do we have to be first to be the best, and does last mean we’re the worst at something? We equate success with working hard for a goal and striving to reach the top of some summit. What if all the competition and struggle, is not about where we end up in rank order but rather how we actually got there. What if it’s about the journey itself? For much of the world, the journey is about reaching a destination, not the path we take to get there. The older I get, the more I find myself focusing on the journeys.
When I went to medical school, I had no idea what was ahead, and perhaps that was a good thing. I was young, ambitious and I wanted to make a difference in peoples lives. I didn’t realize or didn’t think about how a career that was competitive at every step would affect my psyche or self-esteem. I had no idea how the fear of harming someone would plague me because it’s humanly impossible to know everything and to not make mistakes. So I worked hard, studied hard and did the best I could. Still I never felt like I measured up, because the standard I had set for myself was an impossible one to achieve. I might not have been last but it sure felt like I was always coming in last because of unrealistic expectations.
After 25 years in medicine and reinventing myself in an encore career that I love, it’s been quite a journey and I’ve learned a lot, but not necessarily what I had expected to learn at the outset. I’ve learned that achieving goals is a lifelong endeavor, and that goals change. I’ve learned that we are always growing and that each day is a new opportunity to choose how we want to live our lives and contribute to the world, and that this is a conscious choice. I’ve learned the importance of staying true to our core values, because when we are grounded in our values, they light our way, even when we get lost. For me family, compassion and empathy make me who I am. Lastly, I’ve learned that coming in last is just another opportunity to learn something if we pay close attention.
I have a friend Amy who recently opened a cycling studio locally, and Amy is a great example of someone who stays true to her values and in doing so, inspires us all. Amy was a Vice President at Merrill Lynch for many years, so she knows all about the rat race of cycling to the top too. She worked her butt off when her kids were young, she juggled to find work life balance and she did it with apparent ease. Yet we all know, it is not easy to find that delicate balance. She left Merrill Lynch several years ago and has done a ton of amazing things all grounded in her passions; she loves art, she loves philanthropic work. Amy helps young children create beautiful art murals through a foundation called Artists in Residence that she helped found. After Hurricane Katrina she organized a trip for 10 of her friends and we went to New Orleans to help rebuild the people and city. She’s always doing charitable things; she just hosted a breast cancer fundraiser at the studio. It’s ingrained in her to give back. Today’s the one-year anniversary of Surround Cycle and it makes my heart happy to see Amy following another one of her passions: promoting fitness and well –being. Her lesson of living her life in alignment with her values and following her passions is a lesson worth noting.
Back to coming in last. Every time we attend a cycling class, our stats are emailed to us. No joke, every single class I have attended for the last 6 months, I have come in last. Why do I even look? That’s a good question but I still open up that email and my gut instinct even now says, “ Last again!” In my younger days this would have triggered a host of negative self-talk, such as “ why even go if you’re always coming in last!” The more I think about it however; I’m ok with being last. I show up, even on days when I don’t feel like going. I’m doing something healthy for my mind, body and spirit. The competition and rankings of my former life mean little to me now. At 57, it’s about making the effort, doing things out of my comfort zone to grow and yes, and just doing something for the fun of it. The old trifecta of ‘D’s” demoralizing, depressing and demeaning, have taken a back seat even when coming in last. Today, I’m far more interested in the triple “C’s- Courage, Compassion, and Kindness, which aren’t really all “C’s”, but close enough. It’s the journey, on and off the cycling bike that matters now.