When I was entering adolescense, I asked my mom for a dog. I was fixated with having an Alaskan Malamute; the reason why, cannot truly recall.
Growing up in a low-middle class family, run by a single mother -almost by herself- with four kids, in a middle class neighborhood in a latin american country's capital, represented some bumps in that aspiration: first of all, the price of the dog: simple unpayable for my mom. Second, the climate: an Alaskan Malamute doesn't appear to adapt well to tropical latin american weather. Third: oh well, a big dog represented more expenses to my mom.
My mom had many rules, but one unbreakable -all of them were, actually; latin american kids could relate- was to call her as soon as I got home from school. No cellphones at that period of time. One random day, I got home and automatically walked to the living room's phone and call my mom to her job to let her know I had arrived, safely. The usual response was brief, as she was a secretary and had little to no time to trivialize over the phone at work hours. This time, I recall her particularly happy. Didn't know why. She closed the conversation with: I have a little surprise for you.
She usually arrived home, exhausted near 8pm. This time was no exception. She did arrived at that time, with the promised surprise: a puppy.
I was baffled. "Is it mine? For real? You mean it?": those were my words, more or less. She, with the pride only a fighting mother can know, responded: it is. Take care and enjoy him. The happyness in me was obvious.
After about one hour of the introduction to my new friend, in an act of complete lack of situational awareness and maturity, I approached my mom and asked her: why isn't him an Alaskan Malamute? To this day, her expression haunts me: her face felt. She recomposed herself and with the loving but authoritarian tone she has, replied: you will like it more. Trust me.
(Later, myself already an adult (my dog, long dead) she told me the whole story: she approached many dog kennels, and she bought the puppy from the one owner who trust her to pay for the dog in little installments with nothing more than her word and the first small payment. Yes, she could have adopted one for free, but that goes beyond the point.)
And so I did. Next day I became an enthusiast of the specific breed: German Sheperd (ovejero alemán, in spanish). My mom said I would like him more, and I believe -as some kids do- she was never wrong.
I was a bit of a nerd -the "bit" part is not true-. Next week, after I got accustumed to him (his name was Alfio); I was decided to learn as much as I could about that breed.
Next monday after school, I gather some of my savings and went to a library. I asked the clerck if they had any books on dogs, specifically: german shepherds. She showed me some, and I remember thinking: wow, german sheperds must be popular, many books about them.
I chose one of them, the one I could afford and like the most. The name "Ovejero Alemán" by Doris Baumann (Editorial Albatros) (ISBN: 950240940X) (had to Google all that, of course). Sadly, I don't have a copy of it at the moment.
That was the first of many books I read about that lovely breed of friend.
In my memories, it was in that Baumann's book that I read the following phrase: "The German Sheperd is not the best at anything, but it is the second best at everything.".
It was not the strongest breed, but close. It was not the smartest breed, but close. I was not the prettiest (to myself, yes it is), but close. It was not the friendliest, but close. And so on and so on.
To the author, you can always find a better breed in a specific category, but you wouldn't find a more complete breed. The german sheperd was the second best at everything.
That idea stroke hard to me. I remember thinking: this is a great path to follow.
Suddenly, everything became "easier" to me. I was not interested on being the best of my class, the best at coding, the best at fighting, the best with girls; you name it. I was only interested on the right amount of as many skills and achievements as I could get.
And I apply this heuristic to this day. There is always someone better than me at, let say, jiu jitsu (this one is an easy one haha). There is always someone better than me at business (another easy one haha). There is always someone better at something than me, of course. But having a collection of skills, has made me feel capable. Is no longer about being the top performer, it is always about adding a new tool to the list.
By no means this is an invitation to compare yourself to everyone, at this age I already know that is a path to failure and sadness.
But it is a powerful tool: strive to accumulate as many skills, to some degree of mastery.
You can see this in professional careers: fighters who are the best at fighting, but not really much else; business people who are the top performers at their fields, but not really good people; smart scientists who are the frontier of human knowledge, with no sense of beauty and mistery. You name it.
I rather compete agaisnt myself, to be a human German Sheperd.