It is part of human nature to strive to be the best that we can be in some chosen field or occupation. People who are Number One, whether it is in sports or academic achievement or professional entertainment, are applauded by the rest of us.
That’s fine, but the problem is that very few people are number one at everything they do. And many people who are at the top of their game in one field fail dismally in other activities because they have put their lives into being the very best at one thing.
So often, society rewards us for being exceptional, for being number one in our chosen endeavor. Nobody remembers who finished second in any major race, competition or political election.
But in reality, in day-to-day life, isn’t it often the people who are “adequate but not exceptional” who are often the most useful because they are “adequate but not exceptional” in several different fields. In other words, the people who finish in second place are still finishers. They still accomplished their goal (or at least a major part of it).
On a sinking ship, an adequate swimmer is more likely to survive than a world class professional rock guitarist. When we talk about a mugging, a sixty-year-old retired police officer may well do better than a thirty-year-old dentist.
Most of us don’t have the ability to be number one in a single field. But in many aspects of life, being a good all-rounder actually makes us more useful for ourselves and other people.
I recently listened to a short piece of a radio interview with musician Billy Joel where he said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that he knows how to play a piano, how to sing, how to write songs, how to record songs, how to perform in public, but that he did not consider himself to be really good at any of those skills. What he does consider himself to be is competent.
The dictionary defines competent as “… having suitable or sufficient skill, knowledge, experience, etc., for some purpose; properly qualified; adequate but not exceptional.” Notice those three words: “suitable,” “sufficient,” and “adequate.” They define the person who has a wide range of skills that may not be complete, but will be enough to help them to survive a wide array of threatening situations.
If, for example, you can think on your feet quite well, run quite well, punch, kick, stab and shoot quite well, you are probably “adequate but not exceptional.” And if, on top of those skills, you are constantly aware of what is happening around you, and you have a good plan for how you will deal with specific threatening situations and which of your skills you will use and when to use them, then you are probably much closer to being number one as a survivor than most people around you.
When we think about surviving disasters, it would be nice if we were all experts of whatever disaster threatens our lives, but in reality, we are better off having a core set of skills and a highly developed survival mindset that allows us to be competent to deal with a variety of threatening situations that we cannot avoid.
You don’t necessarily have to be a champion boxer or cage fighter to survive a mugging. Of course it helps if you are, but many people survive knowing just a handful of fighting moves: kick, punch, block, throw etc, but what few moves they do know, they can do very well. In the same way, the average driver knows enough to avoid car accidents most of the time, without having to become a world class NASCAR or Grand Prix racer.
By all means, strive for excellence; be number one in your chosen field, but remember also that true survivors are likely to be competent in several different areas.