Most people would just as soon pass by this Biblical quote (Matthew 26:16) and never even notice it. Those who pause a little longer may see it as prophetic. But I’d argue it’s a timeless commentary on all of life. Any subject in which people think “first is best” has downside. And any area in which people think “last is worst” has upside. After all, the first leaf to sprout is often the first leaf to fall.
I never thought I’d be proud to be from a state which ranks dead last in the Union, but in April of 2020 Minnesota ranked below every single state and even our other territories (DC, Guam, Virgin Islands, maybe Puerto Rico when they complete enough tests) in Covid infections per million person populace: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/. Though things have changed in the past few months, the pandemic has remained remarkably better managed here than most other places. With an international airport smack dab in the middle of our most densely populated area, it’s a wonder actually. BUT, I was concerned in April that being the best could actually lead to getting complacent.
In fact, we all know it well in the rest of life. When people “arrive,” they don’t tend to improve. Being the best can actually be the worst. And on the flip side, being the worst can actually ignite a hunger in people.
We’re all familiar with underdog stories. But why do they stir something in our souls? I believe it’s because we know intuitively that people with nothing left to lose command a sort of superpower if they choose it. People who’ve actually hit rock bottom and risen up know that having nothing left to lose can turn you into a superhuman.
Think about people who have the most to lose. They live in constant fear of losing it all. Societally, we tend to look up at incredibly wealthy people; but many of them just sort of flounder. Multi-generational rich families have one single good story (or none) about the first person who established the family’s riches. And then all of the kids and grandkids live in that shadow, never taking substantive risks, and failing to achieve significance of their own making.
In fitness too, I’ve had a propensity to feel jealous of people who’ve been “fit” their whole lives. Lamenting my late-in-life commitment to consistent lifting, I’ve many times felt at a distinct disadvantage. But the other way to look at it is that I never got to take my health and fitness for granted. I had to earn each step with no running start.
To wit, when I began working in the fitness industry, the worst-off new members were former high level high school and collegiate athletes. At 50-years-old, all of these guys who’d been blithely fit were on 8 different medications. And without a team, peer pressure, and consistent scrimmages and games, they were lost.
But on the other hand, people who’d “always struggled with weight” could soar with their goals. They never had a team. They never succumbed to external pressures for athleticism. They never developed a dependency on matches to keep them active. These are some of the absolute best success stories out there. They don’t have a past they’re trying to get back to. On average, they are better at accepting the present.
Life is more complex than we want to think. Advantages have disadvantages. Privilege has downsides. Being the best can easily be the worst. And being the worst can teach you how to become the best.