Coming in Dead Last

I recently saw a relative of mine posting about their child coming in last in some athletic competitions at their school. My relative congratulated her child anyway, and told her that participating, not winning, is the most important part of competing.

It made me think about my childhood. Frequently, I came in last in races (of any kind). Not second to last, or somewhere in the back of the pack, but dead last. And I remember my sister once coming in dead last at a horseback riding competition. (I guess it runs in the family.)

You might think that I’m bitter about this experience, and truth be told, I certainly was bitter at the time. But I got more out of it than I realized. It shaped who I am as an adult. Contrary to popular consolation, I did not take away the lesson that participation is all that matters.

You see, there’s a beauty to coming in dead last; an insight that is not bestowed upon those who come in second place, or even second to last place.

When you start a race, lined up on equal footing with the rest of the competitors, there’s hope in your mind that you might win, or at least might outperform the majority. And then as time as goes on and you drift to the middle, then the middle back, and eventually to the back, you get more and more discouraged.

And then you end up dead last. And the seriousness with which you took yourself at the start of the race, when you still had hope, is completely gone. And in its place is amusement.

Those who have been dead last are in on a joke that is available only to those who have had the same experience.

That is, the race doesn’t matter and never did. Participation is irrelevant. A bunch of people decided to run around and infinite loop and pick an arbitrary measurement to identify success.

And suddenly it dawns on those in the very last place: competition is directly related to how one defines success. The winner only wins because some person picked some criteria to define success in the race.

Competition is an illusion.

And suddenly, to those who are in very last place, the world and all of its opportunities begin to open.

It begs the question: Now that you know competition is an illusion, what are you capable of?