On Being the Best, Or Not
The other day I was reading an io9.com piece by Esther Ingliss-Arkell about why everybody thinks they’re better than everyone else, even if, in point of fact, everyone can’t be better than everyone else. While reading it, I had two thoughts:
One, it was a nice day when I learned I didn’t have to be better than everyone else, just good enough;
Two, I can think of several things where I am totally worse than many other people.
The first of these I think is pretty self-explanatory. To begin, when it comes to creative fields in which “better” or “best” become highly subjective after a certain, hopefully high, level of competence. To follow, once you are at that certain, hopefully high, level of competence, whether you are better or best is usually kind of immaterial. For example, in my field of work, publishers can’t make a business in publishing only the “best,” whatever their (or your) definition of that is. There’s not enough of “best” to go around, and anyway, what’s “best” isn’t always the same as what sells. In addition to “best” they also buy “pretty darn good,” or (at the very least) “competent enough to sell.” I am happy to say I am at least Competent Enough To Sell, which for a writer gets you through the gate.
When I was younger, wanting to be the Best Writer In The World was a fine motivating goal, in terms of sticking with writing and learning the craft and the business of the field. As I got older I realized that wanting to be the Best Writer In The World would eventually give me heartburn and make me envious of and pissy toward the people in my field who might otherwise be my friends when it turned out their talents were as prodigious (or worse, even more so) than mine. So instead I mostly focused on being a better writer. As a result I did in fact get better as a writer, and I learned not to hate other people simply for being good in my field, or needing to feel that I had to always imagine myself the Best Writer in the Room.
So: I do not think I am a better writer than other folks in my field. I can think of several I consider better writers. I keep working on the writing so I can get onto that level. I do think I’m pretty good at the writing thing, and I think my track record as a professional writer lends some credence to that opinion. If other people think they’re better writers than I am, good for them. If other people think other writers are better than I am, that’s okay too. My ego is focused on being good and getting better.
As toward the second, a short list of things I know I totally suck at:
1. Drawing. Man, I’m just terrible at drawing. And I used to say to myself “well, at least I can draw stick figures just fine,” and then xkcd happened. So now I can’t even say I do a good job at stick figures. Stupid xkcd.
2. Cooking. I can cook three things well: Shadenfreude Pie, minestrone soup, and ramen. Everything else you do not want me in the kitchen for. Except for exploding your kitchen. Which I could do.
3. Knitting. Seriously, how the hell do people even do that shit. I tried it once and it just turned me into a ball of anger and insecurity. I see knitters clacking away and making cool things and think what sort of witchcraft is this? It literally astounds me.
4. Dressing myself. I think this might be a field I could become competent in, if I invested the time, but the amount of time that I would have to invest is so large that as a middle-aged man I might not live long enough. So when we go out in public, I let my wife dress me. Because she has to be seen with me, right? She will protect me from myself.
5. Organization. Oh, Jesus. Just the thought of trying to be organized makes me tired and wanting to lay down. This is another place where my perfect wife comes to the rescue, enough so that I have told her that she is not allowed to die before I do, because if I had to manage the particulars of my life, I would end up buried in a pile of bills and starving to death.
To be fair, only some of these are relevant to my day to day life (cooking, dressing myself, organization). But the point is that anytime I start thinking I’m generally better than other people, I have a useful, practical list of things to remind me not to get too far ahead of myself.
Which is actually important because Ms. Ingliss-Arkell is correct — left to my own devices, I would happily think of myself as just plain being better at, oh, everything, because that’s how I’m wired, along with, apparently, a lot of other people. It’s not true, and, happily, it also doesn’t matter if I am. Good enough works just fine.