this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on July 30, 2011.

Is it everyone’s dream to be No. 1?

Honestly, I don’t know.

All my life I can remember only three instances when I landed on the first spot. The first came during grade school when I bested the whole class in our spelling contest. It was not a big event, just a class exercise, but I really felt proud of my accomplishment. I got the right spelling of the word “school.”

The second time I landed on top was when I took my high school entrance exam. I got the highest passing score. Or so I assumed, because my name was listed first among those who were admitted, an impossibility if the listing was done alphabetically since my last name begins with the letter “Q”.

In college, I scored a beautiful win as the 2nd year representative. I was our batch’s voice. Although I was not No. 1 when it came to academics, I was the sophomores’ representative, and that made me No. 1. Those three instances are the only times I ended up on top. I always seem to come in second. I will always remember that I graduated salutatorian in elementary, bagged second place in Division School’s Press Conference (Editorial Writing-Filipino) during my sophomore year in high school, and landed second in the Regional School’s Press Conference (Editorial Writing-Filipino) during my senior year.

I can say that I did well in college. But two significant events serve to confirm my consistency in being second best. During our senior year, I ran for the presidency of our course organization. I had promised my siblings that I would go for that position when I was elected as the batch representative as a sophomore. But then I had taken myself out of campus politics to concentrate on academics in my third year and so I was not well known among the lower classes. I lost—and I got appointed executive vice president, the second highest position in the organization.

By studying really hard and with lots of prayers, I graduated cum laude. I knew that I was not the brightest student in our class and I didn’t expect to get the highest average, or even the second highest. But I thought that at least I would be the No. 1 cum laude among the residents in our dorm. I wasn’t. I thought that maybe I was the best on our floor, but it turned out that the No. 1 cum laude lived on the same floor. So again, I was second best.

I have always been conscious about my consistency in coming in second, but this was never a big issue for me. In fact, the thought of it makes me smile. And the reason I am writing about it is that I want to share the sweetness of the experience and why I am at peace.

Being second best doesn’t mean that I am not good enough, because I only compete with one person: myself. I don’t look around to see what others are doing, and doing everything to outshine anybody. My only concern is to shine. Period. I make sure that I do everything that will give me a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day, and whether I end up No. 1 or No. 2 or not even placing at all doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I did my best, and if it’s not good enough to put me on top, so be it. I won’t waste my time fretting and being hard on myself. I don’t deserve that. As long as I don’t feel like guiltily telling myself that I could have done better, I can sleep soundly at night.

I have nothing against people who want to be on top of the game, the best in their field, people who hate defeat. In fact, I admire them. People like them always shine brightest in the world of entertainment, always end up among the most successful people on earth, and turn out to be the greatest leaders.

I love Naruto. Naruto fans know how aggressive he is, how much he wants to win every battle, how he does everything to get what he wants. I admire him. And yes, a part of me wishes that I could be just like him. But I am not.

The truth is, not everyone can be No. 1. Not everyone can be the greatest. Not everyone can be the leader. Just like not everyone can be a Hokage (the leaders of Konoha, the most prominent village in Naruto). But everyone can be the best person he can be, if he wants to. If only he would compete with himself alone. If only he would not care to outshine anyone else but himself.

Trying to always be the best, the greatest, the No. 1 can be frustrating, because there will always be someone better and greater than us.

I may never be No. 1 or the greatest in my field, but I can be the best person I can be. And I will not stop learning and I will forever enjoy competing with my toughest opponent: myself. And since I only compete with myself, that green-eyed monster called jealousy will find no place in my heart.

If there is Someone whom I want to please, Someone who serves as my greatest inspiration in everything that I do, it is God. I believe every failure, every second spot He gives to me is a simple reminder for me to practice humility and it inspires me to learn more, to become better. In being second best and even in failure I find peace.

I have always believed that my life is a gift from God, and whatever I do with my life will also be my gift to Him. And so I am giving Him a gift He truly deserves: not necessarily a life at the top but a life lived well.

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