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And the winner is...
The best way to stand out is to recognize that there are lots of categories.
The first time I went to a rock concert at an arena, I heard the best song in the world.
Another time, when I was on a road trip with friends, the best song in the world was a 90s ballad that we belted in unison after dark. A different time, I was sure the best song in the world was the angry rap song blasting from the gym speakers, mid workout.
I don’t think any of those three songs would get my vote for BSITW now, but they sure would have in the moment. Same for 100 other songs in 100 other moments, with wildly different genres, moods, themes, etc.
Food’s like that too: there’s probably 50 different dishes (at least 3 of which are ice cream) that I’m convinced, while eating them, that I could eat every meal for the rest of my life. Same with movies. Different strokes for different folks (and contexts).
When you break it down, the ‘best’ of a certain kind of thing really depends -- on the situation, on the genre, on your mood, and definitely on the tastes of the beholder. Put all those variables together and, no matter what we’re talking about, there are a thousand wildly different versions of the thing that are someone’s idea of the best in the world.
Another thing that works like that is people and their talents, but it can be easy to forget that when comparing yourself to others.
In an average day, you observe the people around you and you wish you had their abilities: one person’s charm, the next person’s patience, a third person’s smarts -- so it can feel like you don’t stack up, somehow. But when you do that sort of comparing, you overlook the fact that a) you have qualities that each of those people don’t have, and b) none of the individual people have all the qualities you aspire to.
Think of each person like music or a movie -- with different qualities best suited to different contexts. If you like to wake up to classical music and party to electronic music, you’d be pretty disappointed with the results if you swapped those. Likewise, the person you admire in one setting very likely doesn’t have your strengths in another, or 10 others. The best person for the job...depends.
Just like music or movies, there ends up being a huge variety of different ways to excel in your creative or professional pursuits. So much so that it’s not really worth comparing yourself to anyone else, or at least not with a zero-sum mindset. Unless you’re directly competing in something with a very narrow measure of success*, there are probably plenty of roles or niches in the world that you’re particularly well suited to fill.
(*Admittedly you don’t get many points as a 100m sprinter for being good at folding a fitted bedsheet.)
When you put all your strengths and weaknesses and quirks together, you’re pretty literally in a class of your own. By all means, work on your weaknesses -- that’s the game of personal growth -- but don’t define yourself by them. You’ll probably never be the ‘best in the world’ at that thing (or anything, really) but you don’t need to be.
What you want is to be like tacos on a Wednesday in February to a long-haul trucker in Kalamazoo…not perfect, but pretty damn good for what you are.