I went for a walk with my kids the other day, and on our way home, our neighbor was outside. We stopped to say hello, and the conversation led to sports, his kids, my kids, and our hopefulness that our kids find success. He made a comment that his kids, unfortunately, got the short gene. And, because of their size they are at such a disadvantage. Then, he asked, “What sport do you think would be best for short boys?” Answering his own question before I was able to respond, he said, “I suppose their determination and desire to succeed is more indicative of success rather than size.”
There I was standing at 5 feet tall, thinking to myself that I played Division I college soccer. Listen, I’m not saying that is the greatest achievement of all-time, but it’s a pretty good example of size not being everything. I couldn’t help but share a story with him that I felt he’d appreciate based on our conversation, and his questions about what may have separated me from other players my age.
I was in first grade. Six years old. We were given a homework assignment — to choose a quote that described and represented us best, write it on a poster board, and illustrate it. We would then be presenting it to our class.
Like every assignment I ever had, I came home and explained to my parents what I needed to do. My mom was busy helping my brother, so my dad worked with me that night. If you don’t know by now, my dad is as competitive as they get–driven, intense, and ambitious. Genes are a funny thing… because I happen to be very similar… definitely from his influence, but I was born with this wiring, too.
So, him and I sat down that night, and started brainstorming possible quotes I could use for my poster board. When we came upon this particular one, we both agreed it was perfect. (Remember, I was six years old at the time.)
“Second place is the first loser.”
And, I decorated my poster board with soccer balls, other sports, and #1’s all over.
I believe this quote and story explain a lot about me, my upbringing, and my journey. I was raised in an environment where I had high expectations; I wasn’t satisfied until I won; I was taught to strive to be the best at everything I did; and, the pressure I felt from both my parents and myself was immense.
I refer to it as a double-edged sword. This mentality was what separated me from my peers. I was a fierce competitor. I was willing to do whatever it took to win. But, on the other hand, my self-esteem seemed to have been dictated by how well I performed in school and sports, and because of my perfectionist personality, i developed OCD, which eventually led to an eating disorder.
It is true that second place is the first loser. And, this quote was great motivation, and something I will one day share with my kids, too. My dad only wanted the best for me. He dedicated his being to my brothers and I. And, his commitment to his children is something I strive to emulate. I’m often asked if I will be as intense with my own children. I don’t know. But, I do know that I, too, will challenge them to be their best, while being their biggest fan and supporter, too.