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Does it ever depress you that you're not the best?

  1. May 30, 2007 #1
    Does it ever depress you that you're not the "best?"

    So I'm going to do Maths + CS at university. Someone on a forum the other day posted a link to a guy called Terence Tao (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terence_Tao) who was a child progidy and is obviously incredible good at Maths. I just feel like what's the point when I'm never ever ever gonna be as good as he is in a 100 lifetimes. Don't get me wrong, it's not about being the best, I'm not arrogant at all, but if you want something you want to be the best at it. It's like, what can I do in maths that this guy can't? What research could I possibly do and do well that he hasn't thought of?

    Of course this is just one person. There are millions of better mathematicians than me but at least not all of them are geniuses (hopefully). Obviously the right attitude is to work hard to get to the level you want to, but it's still very depressing knowing you'll never be the best, or even close to it.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 30, 2007 #2


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    Just because you're not considered the best in your field does not mean that you can't make a contribution. If everyone gave up there would be nobody publishing any research which is not the case. In some circumstances people were born with a gift that makes them excellent at one particular thing. 99.9% of the time people only appear superb at something because they put in a lot of work. So how good you are at something mainly depends on how hard you're willing to work at it.
  4. May 30, 2007 #3

    Chi Meson

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    Consider the "best" mathematicians. Would you really want to trade lives with them?
  5. May 30, 2007 #4


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    The affective motivation for doing academic work should be about the process rather than the outcome. In your case, the process of working on mathematics itself should be inherently rewarding enough to keep you at it; it should put you in a state of flow. If you have that, you needn't worry about comparing your achievements to others.
  6. May 30, 2007 #5
    Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.
    --Henry Van Dyke
  7. May 30, 2007 #6
    You should not compare the level of knowledge with someone else, or the level of progress with someone else. Compare your own derivative of learning with yourself and try to find an acceptable level where you don't work yourself to death.
  8. May 30, 2007 #7
    Don't you prefer to do things because you like doing them ? What matters is that you do your best, not the best. Otherwise, pretty much nobody would do anything at all !
  9. May 30, 2007 #8

    Thanks for the responses.

    I do find learning it fun and exciting. But still, sometimes it just demotivates me for some reason. I think I might be seeing it as a kind of competition. Probably not a good idea.
  10. May 30, 2007 #9


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    There'll always be someone better than you, and there'll always be someone worse than you. Worrying about either is senseless.
  11. May 30, 2007 #10
    I wouldn't want to trade lives with mathematicians in general :tongue2:

    Being the best is by definition not an easy thing to be. People like Terry Tao don't bother me, there are tons of people here at PF that are far better than I am at math, and go to better schools than I do, etc. I doubt I am even in the top 25% of math undergrads in the US. But I really don't care. I have goals, and I am doing what I can to reach those goals.

    edit... I got my GRE math subject scores today, apparently I am not even in the top 65% :rofl:
    Last edited: May 31, 2007
  12. May 30, 2007 #11

    Ivan Seeking

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    A friend of mine who was a nuclear engineer [Ph.D.] with GE for his entire career told me that GE once did a study to identify who the most successful employees [who had contributed the most] had been over the last couple of decades. Part of the answer: On the average, B students rated the highest [represented a disproportionate percentage of those considered].
    Last edited: May 30, 2007
  13. May 30, 2007 #12


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    Who says I'm not? :grumpy:
  14. May 30, 2007 #13
    There was one student in my high school who was slightly better than me at math. I would NEVER trade lives with him.
  15. May 30, 2007 #14


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    It doesn't depress you that you're not the best if you are the best at something.

    I think that's the best way to go about it.
  16. May 30, 2007 #15


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    If I were the best at something, then it'd mean I have nothing left to learn (or at least nothing left for anyone else to teach me). Since I love learning, it'd be a sad day to find out there's nothing left to learn.

    In reality, people are good at all different sorts of things simultaneously. I might have talent in doing A, B, and C, while a colleague of mine is good at doing B, C, and D. Even if he's "better than me" at B, it doesn't mean he can't learn something from me about A.

    The real world's much broader than math class. In the real world, the definition of being "good at something" or "bad at something" far transcends grades and test scores.

    - Warren
  17. May 30, 2007 #16
    A bit. I deal with it by pwning some n00bs.
  18. May 30, 2007 #17


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    there was a tv spot by danny glover that i liked where he said something like: "some people are faster, some people are smarter, some are bigger, or stronger, but nobody...nobody, is better".
  19. May 30, 2007 #18


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    I kind of pride myself on being a generalist, actually. I think that people in the industrialized parts of the world specialize too much and lead narrow lives. Academically, I'm not the best at anything, but I'm good at everything. I was the best writer in a science class and the best scientist in a writing class. I'm good at a lot of sports, too, and athletically well-rounded, but I'm not great at any of them.

    I suppose I can always console myself this way if I ever start to feel as you do. Even if someone is better than me at one thing, I'm probably better than him at just about everything else.
  20. May 30, 2007 #19
    Everyone has their positives and negatives.
    Some guys are "all brains" and "no penis". What good is that?
  21. May 30, 2007 #20
    "Only those beneath me can envy or hate me.
    I have never been envied nor hated; I am above no one.
    Only those above me can praise or belittle me.
    I have never been praised nor belittled; I am below no one."

    ~Khalil Gibran
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