Does it always take an incident? Essays and blog posts and pieces of writing of that sort often sound good if they can start with an event, an event where there was an outcome, consequences perhaps, and a lesson was learned, and that’s the starting off point for a flood of ideas about why charity begins at home (or some other truism – they’re usually truisms, or they are when I’m at the keyboard anyway, and that usually means that there’s not a hell of a lot point in going to the trouble you’ve gone to to write something down, as it’s a pretty obvious point you’re illustrating with your trite little story at the beginning).

The trick, and this is even more obvious, is to select a time in your life or in someone else’s life which is interesting, of itself, and then the moral you extract from that event is somewhat unexpected and that adds to the interest, and gives you something more to write about as you twist your material (the word is used loosely here) into something which seems to relate to your little story up front.

But enough.

The other day it occurred to me, apropos of nothing, that I’m just not very good at most things. Not terrible. No, I might start slowly, but I’ll usually become quite good at a lot of things if the training has been good and there has been time to learn without the sort of pressure which is actually counterproductive and makes people actually acquire skills more slowly ort not at all. It was a realisation of mediocrity, and although that sounds like a sad realisation is wasn’t sad. Not very sad anyway. More an occasion for resigned acceptance and an opportunity to view life with a degree of balance.

For if you aren’t actually terrible at most things then it isn’t so bad to be quite good at things as an alternative. To be average, or perhaps slightly below or above average, at the majority of the tasks you do is pretty good. It means door handles don’t come off in your hand and you don’t put your foot through window pains and you are a basically healthy, functioning human being. That’s an acceptable way to be. It could certainly be worse. It is sobering, perhaps, to realise that you are not truly excellent at many things and never will be, but that realisation should be put into the same box that many men put their childish ambitions to play footy or cricket for Australia into – these were silly, unrealistic ideas to begin with, and at some point that silliness becomes clear when you realise that to achieve this type of goal is now technically impossible.  It’s the same thing. You aren’t going to become a great ballet dancer in all likelihood. Yes, you need to start having lessons to get better and to get good, and great ballet dancers did exactly that, but your dream is romantic and slight and when it becomes obvious that great ballerinas from previous eras were usually working their way to the top of famous dance companies years before they got to be your age then you should understand what you really ought to have understood all along: that learning ballet or the violin or a language of practising your putting are all things which are good in themselves; they teach discipline and you learn things about yourself as you overcome small challenges, and what you are really doing is endeavouring to improve at the discipline you are pursuing, not trying to be the best ever at whatever it is you’re doing.

That’s it: the best ever. It’s a silly idea. Competence is fine.

And these notions are so often linked to the competitive arena. To pastimes which have a best or a champion. In the same way that it is worth learning an instrument because it is worth knowing about how music works, and possibly how to write it, rather than some misguided attempt to be the best pianist ever, you shouldn’t feel that you need to wield a hedge trimmer like a professional gardener. It is a good thing to learn how to use that piece of equipment and if that knowledge means you can keep your backyard neat, then that’s great, and it should be enough.

Of course, we all have talents. And those things are what we should realistically expect to do better than most people, but these talents are usually from the competitive sphere as well. It is maybe misguided to want to be the best Hungarian scholar when perhaps you are the best Hungarian teacher already (but you haven’t worked that out yet), or the friendliest teacher or most caring, or funniest.

I don’t know what I’m on about, to perfectly honest. I suppose you have to be your own person, and that can mean just doing what is best for you, to make you a more rounded person, and it can mean emulating a hero to the point where you become good at a skill rather than genuinely setting out to overhaul or match that hero (you won’t write like Tolstoy, but if Tolstoy’s example helps you to write like you as well as you can and people can read and appreciate that then that’s enough).

Being second best, or an also ran, at things is OK. Life’s not much fun if we dwell on things we can’t change, and in a lot of cases if we wanted to change these things, which are impossible, then we shouldn’t want to do that, as that misses the point of what it’s all about.

Published in: on April 10, 2013 at 8:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

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