You’ve got to admit, it’s a damn good question. Any self-respecting, introspective person who half cares about what they are doing should have asked this. After all, who doesn’t want to be sure that they are having a positive impact upon whatever it is they are working? I frequently find myself having meta-conversations with myself as I am teaching. “Am I doing the most effective thing for the person I am working to help?” I strongly believe that type of questioning is very helpful and conducive to growth.
However, I also catch myself engaging in a more dangerous meta-talk. “I could throw a rock and hit a better teacher than I. Why am I bothering? All students whose journey led them to my classroom/piano studio are to be pitied.” Sadly, I have had thoughts bleaker than these. While I understand that it is quite an exaggeration regarding the rock throwing, the fact remains that there are teachers/pianists better than I. A lot of them. Many of them are probably more experienced and older, but I am sure there are several who are younger and simply more gifted than I. Better to let someone who is good at this teaching business handle these impressionable students, right?
Surely this line of thinking is applicable to one’s personal life if it applies to one’s professional life. There are definitely better athletes than I. I guess that paycheck that I’m getting from being a mediocre teacher is helping race organizers, so my presence is good for the economy? Yessss, I’ve found my purpose – I’m great for capitalism!
If I were a nihilist, the conversation would end there. Thankfully, the hope and faith that I have in Someone larger than I will not allow that. I believe in the uniqueness of people. I once said with great sarcasm that I am special, just like everyone else – but now I mean it! Everyone has something that is theirs alone to bring to the table. Just as our fingerprints identify us, my style is all my own in all that I do.
Still, there are people doing it – everything – better than I! My ego doesn’t like it. I know I am not alone in thinking this – we want to feel like we are doing something good. Not just good, but better than someone else. I’ve frequently seen this meme and frankly, I think it is a sad attempt to disguise feelings of inadequacy for what they are:
“Yeah, I may not run a 10 minute mile but at least I’m not like that fat chick over there!” *flips hair* Really? Just as a few paychecks separate the average American from personal financial disaster, only good decisions and perhaps genetics/circumstance – things over which you have little control – separate you from a body that you find undesirable. Is our need to be better than that other guy so deep that we must stoop to this type of comparison?
I know I still haven’t answered the question. How do I know if I am winning? What am I doing here? Is it true that I have lost every race that I have entered because I didn’t cross the finish line first? Have I failed every student that has come across my path because there could be someone better teaching them?
My colleague alerted me to this brilliant article on motivation from Women’s Running. 🙂 I was shocked to see my finish line picture from the Women’s Running 5k in St. Petersburg gracing the top of the article. I loved that finish, and evidently, photographers and editors did as well. Off the top of my head, at least 150 faster women finished before I did. Sorry readers, no matter how hard I may try, I can’t look at that picture and see a loser. To endure, to progress, to inspire others – that is how races are won. Dammit, I do that.
I must admit that the competitor in me once thought people said things like that because they didn’t want to feel bad about not coming in first. “Only losers have to comfort themselves with BS like that! If you ever WON something in your life you wouldn’t spew that mess!” Now I believe that the real merit is in lining yourself up at that start and giving it all you have, regardless of the outcome. To feel bad because you didn’t come in first seems frighteningly short-sighted.
Indeed, our place is to be found via exceptionalism. There’s only one Lady J, y’all. I’mma keep doing me and I hope you do the same.