Second place is not always bad

Second place. Who wouldn’t be in second place, right? If you are among the top five in the whole world. You gotta feel sorry for those Americans who are world-class athletes but only manage to come in second place. The sweat is still running when all those journalists shove the microphone in front of the poor athlete asking the famous question, “What went wrong?” Ahh! I want to strangle those blood thirsty microphone holding people!

We are definitely a society that idolizes first places. We love our heroes and are quick to relegate losers to the dustpan of history. And that is a tragedy.

However, that is not to say that coming in first place is not a lofty goal and something every athlete should strive for. The apostle Paul said that in a race everyone runs but only one gets the top prize, and you should run to get the prize. But what happens when you come in second?

Well, in my case, disaster. It happened when I was a freshman in High School. I came from a poor family and our school required  that we wore specific t-shirts provided by the school, a blatant gimmick to make somebody rich on the backs of poor people. But they were nice, they gave us several months before you were required to start wearing the shirts. Meanwhile, school is in full swing and I am acing all the Math tests.

So when the teacher announced that he was going to give a free shirt to whoever got the highest grade in the next big test, everybody was already writing my name on that shirt. Including me, unfortunately. Consequently, I didn’t study as hard as I should. I went with the law of averages — I was the top student of my classes and I had gotten the best grade by far in ALL the previous tests. I told my mom about it and we all started counting on the shirt and what we would be able to buy with the money we would save.

On the day we got the test results back, a big surprise awaited all of us. A student who was not even on anybody’s radar screen got the top grade and I came in second place. The teacher even lauded the student as someone who worked harder than ever  because he kept his eye on the prize. The implication was that I didn’t work as hard and perhaps was simply relying on past victories.

The day I told my mother about my failure was a sad day in my house.

But I did learn some lessons from that failure:

1. I overestimated my abilities and underestimated the abilities of those I was coming up against;

2. I was celebrating too early. Remember Lindsey Jacobellis, the American snowboarder who started celebrating too soon and ended up  blowing a big lead to finish in second place?

3. Just about with anything also you desire, the question always is “how bad do you really want it?” No matter how focused you may be, how hungry for the prize and how disciplined in your training, you can always count on the fact that someone out there wants it more than you!

And finally I learned that it is better to wear the shirt first before you promise it to your mom!

Ivanildo C. Trindade