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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.
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  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
  22. May 31, 2007 #21
    I suppose there's more to it than just being the best. Thanks for the responses.
  23. May 31, 2007 #22
    RE: "Happiest" or just "Happy"

    Your viewpoint here reminds me of what someone once said. A said that her aim in life was to be "the happiest person in the world." I thought to myself "right, that is never gonna happen, because the grass is always greener on the other side," and B said, "Just aim to be happy, surely that will be sufficient."

    My advice to you is that you should realise what you can offer. Remember that these geniuses/child prodigies etc. are only single people, they simply don't have the time (we can never get it back http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/quran/103.qmt.html" [Broken]) to do all of the other things that everyone else is doing. At the end of the day they can only focus on one aspect of a subject, at maximum a few, if they are the best at it. Most people are in balance as well, and although you needn't, you will probably find them lacking in one area if they are superior in another - even if they seem to be "the best at everything."

    Those who are truly best at something, often don't consider themselves the best, and so find contentment in your very predicament.

    Note on Child prodigies
    Yeah, they are clever. We might like to convince ourselves that they lack any social life, or that their parents pushed them when they were younger, or that they had privileged childhoods. But really it doesn't matter, even if they are at your stage and they are ten years younger: they still haven't lived your life and you haven't lived theirs. You are only similar in career, what about the no. of siblings you have, or the time you helped someone, or when someone said something nice to you etc. I hope they live happy lives, and I hope we call all live happy lives here and in the hereafter.

    To summarise: What is your measure of success; intelligence, wealth, or contentment? I say contentment, hands down.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  24. May 31, 2007 #23
    That's a strange way to look at this topin. IMO, being the best does not equal "knowing the most". Since most learning focusses on "getting to know and absorb facts" what you say is contradictory.

    But, you could say to me that learning also means "acquiring new abilities". I would completely agree with you but being the best in this case means : learning the fastest. When Mozart was a child prodidy he still had a lot to learn about how to write music. But still, he was able to write the best music using the few techniqies he knew at that age.

    You see, it is not about what or how much you learn, it is all about how fast you are able to learn and what you are able to create with that knowledge. Creating with your knowledge is not the same as learning. That is why i disagree with you.

  25. May 31, 2007 #24


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    actually your concept of terrence tao is wrong. brilliant as he is, it si not at all true that someone like him thinks of everything there is to think of before other people.

    if you concentrate on an area that interests you, it is entirely possible that you will do something he does not do, even though he may have tried. i say this from experience.

    I.e. I have done things much better experts did not do, and young students have done things in my area of expertise that I did not do.

    I started to say your attitude was quite pathological, but now that I think about it, I remember having that attitude as a high school student. I think back in those days I was praised so much by well meaning teachers and parents, that I thought of myself as a genius, and that idea was a big part of my self image and self confidence.

    Then when I got to Harvard and met all those really bright kids, it was startling and I did not do well there, probably partly because I was no longer the "best", and had no other motivation to work. This is a typical reaction of bright kids going to college for the first time, and especially at a top place where everyone is good.

    But ultimately people usually find a subject they enjoy doing for the pleasure of doing it, and not the ego boost of being called the best, and live happily ever after. And what I said above is also true, that in a subject one actually enjoys, one can often find something they do actually extremely well, sometimes even better than the "best" people.

    So now I am conjecturing you are a high school student or beginning college student [confirmed by rereading your first post], having this same syndrome many of us have lived through. You wil be fine as soon as you stop thinking about how people view you, and start thinking about the beauty of the subject you are working on. And then at some point, people will start thinking highly of you for what you have done while you were having fun at it.
    Last edited: May 31, 2007
  26. May 31, 2007 #25
    I think people are being a bit too 'nice' here. I don't think 'don't worry about it' should be the right answer to such a question.

    If one is not content with not being the best, then you should strive as hard you possibly can to become the best. The constraint is only mental, and best does not necessarily mean they are more intelligent, but worked more harder. If then, work harder than them! Or even if they just more naturally clever than you are, one striving to become the best should work to close the gap between natural intelligence and hard work. There is a limit to where natural intelligence will get you, wheras there is no limit to hard work, only that you be practical and selective with it (I mean, don't just blindly work).

    And about 'being' the best, it really does depend on context, but whatever context your in, I think it is pretty easy to point out who is the best (relative the whatever subject) and who is the worst.
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