Gallup’s Strengths Finder is a test that you can take to find out what your top five God-given or “natural” strengths are. I’ve taken the test, I helped to facilitate a program at church about it, and I’ve read a lot of literature on it. What can I say? I drank the Kool-Aid. My top strength is “Competition.” Anyone who knows me even just a little bit, knows that I love to compete; I love to win. It’s how I was nurtured and it’s apparently natural. But in life, what is the best? What is being the best? And more importantly, how do you know if and when you’re settling for second-best?
A few months ago, a friend and I were talking about relationships, and she said something that really struck me. She said, “A lot of people are not with their first-choice.” To me that was an enlightening statement and although there is no way to really prove it besides surveying people, I see a lot of truth in it. And I get it, I really do. It takes a strong person, a really strong person, to decide that they’re not going to “settle” for anyone who is not “their best.” Of course no human being is perfect and we are all full of flaws and baggage, but I do think that a lot of people are in relationships with their “second-best.” And maybe sometimes it’s a result of life and not always getting what you want, but I also think it’s because many people don’t have the courage to really go after what they want; to really go after “their best.”
This is also true in the working life. Think of how many people you know that say, “I hate my job.” And I know it may seem like a privilege to get do what you want, and I know that sometimes we all have to do what we have to do to pay the bills. But whenever someone tells me they hate what they do, I want to ask and sometimes I do ask, “What are you doing it about it?” Are you trying to change? Are you trying to make a difference to your life that will lead you on a path to do what you want? Or are you sitting on ass, complaining about the status quo, and not even attempting to do what you really want to do with your career?
I also see it in academia. Of course a lot of people argue that being the child of professors has spoiled me in this area. But they’re very surprised when I tell them my parents never really pressured my siblings and I. They did, however, expect us to do the best we could. And throughout my academic life, I have always been appalled by people who have so much potential but choose not to put in the work. Grades matter in academia, for better or for worse, grades simply matter. But what matters more, is that you’re not settling for a passing grade, that you’re really doing the best you can. And that’s a metaphor for life – even if you don’t get an A, give it your best and see what happens, but don’t just settle for a passing grade because it’s the easier course of action. Don’t put your name on something you’re not proud of.
I know a lot of things are easier said than done. I’m a competitive person but I’m far from being good at everything I undertake. And sometimes I’ll end up second-best at some things – that’s a fact of life. But in the things that really matter, in the things that you and I can control, I think most of us can do better than settling. Even if we don’t get what we want, let it be because of awful luck or because of someone else’s God-given talent or because that thing we wanted wasn’t good for us in the first place. But don’t ever let it be because you didn’t try hard enough; don’t ever let it be because you settled for second-best.