Can you be happy in last place?

Mens 100m final by William Warby

In almost every, quantified activity, someone has to come last.

Someone has to be the slowest, the weakest, the lowest.

It’s the brutal result of us quantifying our performance and there is no way around it.

Even in the Olympic sprinting finals. Even if each finisher smashes the winning times from all the heats, someone comes in 8th place.

Dead last.

And coming last sucks.

Firstly, there’s the crushing feeling of failure which hits you immediately.

Then there’s the discomfort and pity you receive from the witnesses, both of which can be worse that the original experience.

When you come last, all the effort you sank into the project: the time, the money, the sacrifice, the focus – it all seems to have been in vain.

Because you came last.

But to be honest, all that is bullshit.

If you’re unhappy with last place, then you’re thinking about it the wrong way. If you’re tethering your happiness to elements outside of your control, you’ll be disappointed no matter the outcome.

All you can judge is what you can control. And to be clear, our sense of what we control in this world, is massively over-inflated.

You can’t control whether you beat someone else. You can’t control the outcome, only what you put in.

You can control your training, your outlook, your technique, your focus, your attitude and your commitment.

All the other factors: The weather, competitors, referee, market and environment. They’re all in the hands of other agents and those external factors are going to influence whether you win or lose, just as much as your own performance will.

If you have to judge yourself, then do it by criteria decoupled from those external factors. Focus on measurements of what you control. Your speed, your distance, your time, your effort, your rate of improvement, your personal best.

But even with that kind of outlook, even with all the training in the world, you’re still going to occasionally find yourself in last place.

And at that point, you need to remember:

Dead Last Finish is greater than Did Not Finish which trumps Did Not Start.