Second place is just fine
My buddies and I loitering at or near the 17th Street Surf Shop on the Virginia Beach ocean front thought we were the coolest cats on earth 'cause of our flowered shorts, Vans, goofy "No Fear" gear, and beach cruiser bicycles (and later pick-up trucks with surf racks that rarely bore surf boards).
Anyway, one of my then-favorite "No Fear" t-shirts had a quote on the back - "Second Place is the First Loser!"
The suggestion, of course, was that anything less than first was a failure. And while I was a stupid kid who wore and said all sorts of relatively harmless stuff, I'm sorry now that I bought into that hype.
What made me think of that shirt today was the return, this evening, of American Idol, and - bear with me - that, in turn, made me think of a series of 20/20 specials John Stossel did in recent years about this movement to eliminate winners and losers from American culture. He reported on little leagues in which every kid was given a shot as pitcher or quarterback so every kid (and parent) would feel good, or leagues where score was no longer kept, so none of the kids would feel bad. So what we've been producing are children who grow up to think that they're always gonna be OK. They can't lose 'cause there's no such thing as losing to them. If there's a prominent position to be had, they assume it's theirs for the taking.
I really think these kids in recent years have been growing up to become American Idol contestants.
On the one hand American Idol has proven that t-shirt slogan wrong, as reported by my colleague Howard Cohen in the Miami Herald today. Over the years the second place finishers of that contest have done quite well, often outshining the winners. On the other hand though, the show is the adult version of these twisted no-score, no-loser little leagues.
I won't front. I love watching American Idol. But more than watching the talented folks in the end, I enjoy watching the criminally untalented folks in the beginning. It's cruel, delightful fun, to
watch someone howl like cat and then stare incredulously at the disappointed judges.
But there is something wrong when such a huge number of people have been groomed to think that they can do anything.
We can't do everything, folks. I swear I nearly sought counseling in high school 'cause of how long it took me to get strong enough to slam dunk a basketball. It was as if me being 6'3" made dunking my right! I sang in an A Capella barbershop quartet in high school and college. We had fun. But I was smart enough not to try to go solo.
Some of us aren't good at much. Some of us have one solitary skill like a needle in a haystack. Others of us are loaded with the works: talent, skill, looks, luck, etc. Trust me, while I'm endowed with enough to do well in life if I work hard, I am definitely not the latter. And that's OK. I won't split the atom. I won't ever dunk again on my rickety knees. I won't live in the White House. I won't win American Idol. But I will keep doing what I'm actually good at, and since we're talking clichés, that, my friends, is what we mean by "slow but steady wins the race."
As funny as it is, it is also a shame that over the next few days we will watch people spinning their wheels at singing, when they could have already moved on to something they might be good at...if only friends and family had told them years ago "You're just not that good at this. But you're awesome at that! So why not give that a shot?"