I’ll let you in on a little secret, I’m a little odd. Ok, I know many people who might think I’m very odd. One of my idiosyncracies is that I have a different belief system than most. I don’t believe in absolutes. No one can be the best or the worst. These are arbitrary labels that mean nothing to anyone but the person who thinks they are the best. Now, I’m not trying to convince anyone that I am right. I’m only right in my own mind and only need to be right in my mind. This is appropriate for me because I don’t believe in the concepts of absolute rights or wrongs. Life is all about the middle and shades of gray. Even stranger to many, I don’t like to win. In order to win, everyone else has to lose. I know that most people will not agree, but seriously (unless we are talking about cards) I don’t feel the need to win.
Now, I’m serious that I don’t care to change people’s minds. Your belief system is your own. But I do find it offensive that people feel the need to judge those of us who may not be driven to be the best at something as inferior. In this vein, I found this post by Emily Clasper at Library Revolution to be a bit condescending. Emily writes:
The world (and that includes LibraryWorld!) needs people who don’t necessarily want to be the best. In fact, that’s very beneficial to those of us who do. But I feel like we can motivate them, maybe not to want to stick their necks out to be THE BEST, but to be a little bit better than good enough.
A couple of things bother me here. The first is that there is an underlying assumption that someone either wants to be THE BEST or to just be good enough to get by. I don’t want to be THE BEST nor am I content to be good enough. I want to be the best I can be – regardless of anyone else. The second is that people who settle for just good enough should be motivated by super-overachievers who want to be THE BEST. In my experience, overachievers can end up stealing the thunder of quieter, less aggressive people – and can actually end up being the cause of people settling for less. From my own perspective, if I’m in the presence of an aggressive overachiever, I will become quiet and withdrawn. I will not compete with you for attention or resources. Hence, my earlier mention of not wanting to win. This is a bit of a generalization because not all super overachievers dominate everything and everyone. However, it happens often. People who need to be THE BEST are sometimes willing to overachieve at the expense of others. They don’t intend to do this, but they may not be the best team players.
One other thing that struck me while reading Emily Clasper’s post was that there is an assumption that those who don’t want to be THE BEST settle for just being good enough. This is too much of a generalization, and it reduces human beings to simple creatures. In this vein, Emily quotes Seth Godin from The Dip (which I guess I might have to read):
People settle. They settle for less than they are capable of. Organizations settle, too. For good enough instead of best in the world.
I don’t actually doubt this is true. I’ve settled – I bet everyone has. Everyone will settle again. But how do you know that someone is settling? How do you know what someone is capable of – especially in the workplace? Beyond that, striving to be the best in the world is an UNACHIEVABLE goal. Motivating people is tricky, but it isn’t always about making them want to be THE BEST. I can be motivated by all sorts of things, but NEVER by someone who believes they can help to fix me - never by someone who condescends – and never by someone who believes they are better than me.
So, what does it mean to be the best? What it means to you is not what it means to me. To me, THE BEST does not even really exist. It is artificial. It is a social construct that people use to make themselves feel better. Just because one believes they are THE BEST doesn’t mean that everyone else in the world agrees. And wouldn’t it follow that if everyone else in the world didn’t agree, the person in question would not be THE BEST? Again, this is what I believe. I know it isn’t what you believe. I’m not even trying to convince you to think like me. The bottom line here? Those who strive to be the best shouldn’t try to “fix” those of use who don’t strive to be the best. I’m ok with you being you – and you need to be ok with me being me.