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I'm not the best

A chess board with the white pieces close and faded and the black pieces in focus.

All my career I worked in places where people were better than me. Like… way better, in one thing or another. They were truly exceptional people.

I think I was good enough in most things, but not great in a particular one.

When I started working, I was a pretty competitive person. For someone as competitive, being surrounded by great people was quite a lot to handle. It is amazing to be in such position where you can learn from the best, but you have to deal with this. It requires a lot of inner strength to see this as an opportunity rather than just feeling like a fraud.

One day I got the answer to help me deal with this and it came from an unexpected place.

You see, when I was in college, I was part of this organisation called Junior Enterprise where college students could run a small business. The idea was to give life-like experiences outside of college typical academic experience. On my or third year on this, I went to the national conference, where students from all around Brazil would gather for talks from psychologists, business people, inspiring personalities, etc.

The opening keynote was given by a motivational speaker. It was a mix of magic-business-concert talk, so you can imagine how that went 🙄. At the time I didn’t pay much attention, specially given the level of the other talks happening throughout the event. However, 10 years later (omg 🤯) that was the talk that stuck with me, because of one simple phrase:

Don’t try to be the best: there will always be someone better than you. Be unique so you are truly irreplaceable.

It was only after I revisited this talk (in my head) and this saying that I was able to handle being surrounded by better people. I looked inside me and started to understand what was unique in me. Maybe I didn’t have this or that deep technical knowledge. Maybe I am not the genius that can fix certain kinds of problem at the blink of an eye. But I do bring something to the table. Something that nobody else will have. Specially now that I moved careers and have a different way of seeing the world, that has its huge pros, even if most of the time my previous knowledge might seems unusable.

So when a friend asked me: “You were so competitive. How can you live surrounded by these people that are so much better than us?”, my answer was: “I am not the best. I just know where I am unique”.

It is not always that I come back to this phrase, but when I do, it make me happier with myself and less prone to think I am a fraud.

Photo from Vlada Karpovich by Pexels