I grew up in a small country town and, like most country towns, the local footy club was a central hub of the community. Even if you didn’t play—or even like watching—football, you’d still go along because you were sure to run into lots of people you knew.
Most of the players were just average guys who liked a kick on the weekend, but there were always one or two players on either side who were obviously a cut above the rest. Every so often there’d be someone who would get a call to go to the city to try out for the top level. While a few went on to long careers, more discovered there were a thousand other young players just as good as them, if not better.
Looking back now, it’s hard not to feel for them. It must have been tough to have become accustomed to being the best at something only to discover you weren’t. For guys who lived and breathed footy, that was how they defined themselves, and no doubt they struggled to build a new identity for themselves that didn’t depend on standing out from the rest.
It’s not just something sportspeople go through, though. Often students who were at the top of their class at university and considered “most likely to succeed” discover when they go into the workforce that they are now competing against another dozen exceptional students, as well as people with years of experience.
Those who watch shows like The X Factor or Australian Idol would have seen another version of this. For contestants who’d spent most of their life being told they were the best singer or performer in their community or church or school, suddenly realising that they were up against people just as talented clearly comes as shock.
The reality is that, no matter what it is that we might be particularly gifted in, there will always be someone smarter or faster or tougher or more talented than us. Even those rare individuals who might have a brief time at the top of their field soon discover that there is always someone on the way up ready to take their crown.
If we define ourselves by being the best at something we are setting ourselves up for disappointment, so perhaps we should take a different approach and simply focus on being the best version of ourselves we can be. That way, we remove the stress of measuring ourselves against other people and factors outside our control.
God doesn’t measure us against those around us; he created us to be someone unique. The transforming journey he has laid out for us is one that leads us to be everything we should be—the ‘us’ that is fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).