Being ‘the best’ isn’t the path to being a winner in life

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 15, 2011 - 7:06 PM
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The smiling face of Minnesota Lynx's Seimone Augustus is reflected in the WNBA basketball championship trophy as she carried it in a parade, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011, in Minneapolis. The team was honored with a downtown parade and a rally at Target Center, with an estimated 15,000 people lined up along the route and about 5,000 fans inside the arena to cheer and hear from the players.(AP Photo/Star Tribune, Jim Gehrz) ST. PAUL OUT MAGS OUT MINNEAPOLIS-AREA TV OUT

Photo: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

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Slogging through wet leaves on Friday, it was hard to believe that, just three days earlier, things couldn't have been sunnier in our fair Twin Cities.

There's nothing quite like a noontime parade down Minneapolis' Nicollet Mall, featuring a team of ebullient WNBA stars and an unseasonably warm 69 degrees in October.

It was a whirlwind week for the best and the brightest. As the Minnesota Lynx were celebrated, the late Steve Jobs was eulogized internationally, and Nobel prizes were awarded, it was hard not to consider our own merits on this planet, hard to resist asking, and inviting our children to ask, "What could be for us?"

Then, back to reality. More than 7 billion people on this planet means a lot of competition for the top spots. Besides, the boss needs that report 10 minutes ago.

But, because I am best in the world at obsessing about questions with no definitive answer, I'm still thinking about the Big Winners, the euphoria they must experience, the heavy responsibility they must carry. What are we supposed to learn from them as we journey through our own lives?

First, maybe, that they don't see themselves as the pinnacle at all.

"I wonder if Steve Jobs really saw himself as the best," mused Karen Rogers, a professor in the University of St. Thomas master's program in Gifted, Creative and Talented Education.

"He probably met people with more talent, tremendous talent, but who weren't in his position to do the things he did. And, with the Lynx," she added, "there was probably lots of, 'We should have done this better or that better.'

"I raised three very gifted children," Rogers said, "and my message to them was that there would always be someone else out there who would be better than they are, no matter how good they were."

Twin Cities business coach Chuck Parten, of Parten-Pender, had the same thought. "Remember, our Lynx are on top now, but they need to go out and fight to remain so next year," Parten said.

"Steven Jobs was 'maybe' the best, but what about Bill Gates? A Nobel Prize winner one year is replaced the next. Few, if any, are and remain the best in any endeavor," Parten said. "They are there for a season and then the season moves on."

Getting to that season, even once, is no accident. Turns out your parents and teachers were right. Hard work matters. Rogers has seen plenty of gifted children fritter away their considerable potential by lack of motivation. Nurture trumps nature in her book.

"We all are born with a certain amount of natural potential," she said, "but it's the catalysts in life that make a difference: Perseverance, supportive parents and teachers, and a culture where your skills are valued.

"The Lynx, Jobs, Gates, Nobel Prize winners, they all put in the practice, the study, the work, with little time off for self-gratification. That's what makes them successful."

Rogers worries when parents push their children to become "the best" at hockey or music or in school, which she believes only sets them up for failure if they fall short. A better approach? Shoot for a "personal best," she said. And encourage them to learn from, instead of be intimidated by, those around them who are better than they are.

Parten believes that the winning strategy for kids, and grown-ups, is to figure out what you're good at and find a way to do it. Rogers is gratified by being good enough.

"Being recognized as good in my field -- not the best, but good -- is probably my strongest driving force," Rogers said.

"Things evolve and change and 'best' gets replaced with something better. That is probably what life is about. The good life is one that goes with the flow of this evolution. It's about learning what one can do and turning that into something that improves one's own way of living or thinking, and others', too."

Winning in life, Rogers said, "is feeling that you've been as good as you can possibly be. It's not, 'I was famous once,' but the whole gamut of accomplishments in life."

gail.rosenblum@startribune.com • 612-673-7350

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