I came in second place on Monday night at a Moth StorySLAM in New York City. I was in first place after four stories but gave up the lead to the eighth storyteller, who told an amusing and revealing story about her battle with herpes.
Last week I finished second at a Moth StorySLAM in Boston. I went first and held the lead until the ninth storyteller took the stage and told a fabulous story about her father.
Back in April I came in second place at a Moth StorySLAM in New York City. I was in first place after five storytellers but lost to the ninth storyteller, who told a story that I have since forgotten.
I also won a StorySLAM in Boston last month, but that victory does not fit into the narrative of this post. More notably, it doesn’t make any of those second place finishes feel any better.
There are many problems with finishing in second place in a competition.
Research shows that Olympic silver medalists feel worse after their Olympic performance than bronze medalists, because silver medalists know how close they came to winning.
I understand this sentiment precisely.
Jerry Seinfeld is famous for saying that second place is the first loser.
I understand this sentiment, too.
I am the King of Second Place. Throughout my life, I have constantly found myself in second place, the runner-up position and as one of a handful of disappointed finalists.
Rarely do I find my way to victory.
I’ve competed in 14 Moth StorySLAMs over the past two years. I’ve been fortunate enough to win 4 of them and finished in second place 6 times. I’ve also finished in second place in 2 Moth GrandSLAMs.
See the problem?
I’ve been exceptionally lucky over the past two years. I should be grateful for my record at The Moth. I should be grateful simply for the opportunity to take the stage and tell a story about my life.
I have absolutely no right to complain.
Except all those second place finishes KILL ME. They hurt my heart. They linger in my mind, serving as constant reminders about how close I came to winning again and again,
Sadly, tragically, and pathetically, I remember the second place finishes better than the first place finishes.
But no one wants to hear this. Complain about second place to someone who has finished fifth and you feel like a jerk. Complain about second place to someone who didn’t even have the chance to compete and you feel like an even bigger jerk.
Complain about second place in almost any context you’re a jerk.
I was recently complaining about a second place finish to a fellow storyteller, lamenting about the fact that I had lost despite posting scores of 9.8, 9.5 and 9.4.
The storyteller glared at me and told me that he was still waiting for his first score in the 9 range.
I felt like such a jerk. I still do. That moment may have irrevocably confirmed my jerk status forever.
But am I supposed to feel gratitude about a second place finish?
Should I rejoice in my excellent, albeit not entirely winning, performance?
Should I just smile and keep my mouth shut?
The latter is probably the best advice, but it is also advice that I have never been able to follow.
I should be happy with all those second place finishes. I should be thrilled with my overall record. I have stumbled upon something I do well and something I unexpectedly love. Two years ago storytelling wasn’t even on my radar. Today it’s an enormous part of my life.
This should be enough.
But it’s not because second place sucks. And I am a jerk for thinking so.