In praise of coming last

In true European fashion, Living room philosophy will be taking a break in August and will be back in September. As a fitting tribute to the last post, on the last day of July, I thought I would write about the joys of coming last.

Coming last has never really had a good reputation. If someone comes last in a competition or is ranked bottom of a league table, it usually means that they are not very good at what they came last in. If someone comes last to a party or an event, it tends to signify that this person is inept at time-keeping or not very considerate of the host’s feelings.  Thus, criticism usually follows coming last. One recent example is the publication of how much coming last had cost Ireland at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Would cost have been such an issue had Ireland won?

Coming last is not always all bad though. A couple of years ago, my fellow interns and I competed in the intern five-aside football tournament. We were a predominantly female team in a predominantly male tournament. Most of us had never really played much football before (or any at all) and we had no clue about training. We decided to enter however, to have fun as well as it being a good occasion to bond.

Our first match was a disaster: we lost by a colossal amount (without scoring a goal) and we were considered a bit of a laughing stock. Not only were some boys laughing at us because we were generally rubbish; they were also laughing at us because we were (mostly) women playing football: proving gender stereotypes.

The humiliation of our first match was a turning point for us: we could either quit or continue humiliating ourselves. The team was close to splitting into warring factions but after a heated team-talk, we chose the latter, and we decided to at least try to train. From then on, we trained twice weekly and we got better.

Alas, we finished last place by a very long shot. Regardless of how badly we were beaten, or what names we were called, we always showed up to our matches and played with professionalism. Our effort and commitment were honoured as the recipients of the “Fair Play” award, and we became minor celebrities. We didn’t win games but we won hearts.

In the 2000 summer Olympics, Eric “the Eel” Moussambani enraptured 17,000 supporters and the world by coming last: he won his 100m freestyle swim-heat but his time of 1 minute 52.72 seconds is the slowest time ever recorded in Olympic history. He defied criticism and taunts to embody the spirit of the Games. On coming last, he said, “Many people thought that I would not be able to finish the race. I would have been ashamed had I not been able to finish the race. I would not have been able to live with myself.”

Coming last can mean many things: heroic failure; personal and financial cost; or simply that our talents lie elsewhere. But on the bright side, by coming last, we can at least say that we did our best, and we contributed to the betterment of the human race. To me, coming last means one more thing: that today we’ve reached the end, and tomorrow we start again.

Lessons from an arch-nemesis

An arch-nemesis is more than just a rival. I’ve had quite a few rivals in my life: people who you are sort of in competition with, whether at work or playing football. They have been members of family, colleagues and sometimes very good friends. Yet, I never really minded the rivalry so much because we rivals generally liked each other (even loved one another) and the rivalry was usually in one aspect of life, not many.

An arch-nemesis somehow manages to sort of linger in and out of your life, and yet is always present: they share mutual friends; they go to the same places you do; they take the jobs you want; they go out with the men you fancy; they meddle in your life long after you have deleted them off Facebook.

I had an arch-nemesis. She was a friend of a good friend. When I first met her, I thought she was friendly and we had fairly common interests. Yet, something was niggling at me about our connection, that perhaps her friendliness was not completely genuine.

As she started hanging out more with my friend, I was spending more time with her. I noticed that she was quite secretive about job hunting and relationships. Since we three had just finished our studies, finding a job was starting to cause us anxiety. I eventually found out that she got a job that I had set my sights on. Around the same time, I also found out that she had started dating a guy that I had a crush on. This may sound a bit melodramatic but her getting the job and getting the guy didn’t just happen once, but twice!

I felt like the Universe was conspiring against me and she was deliberately out to get me. She was my arch-nemesis: every where I turned she would be there, grabbing any opportunity out of my hand.

In reality, nothing could have been further from the truth. The problem did not lie with her, but with me. At the time I was threatened by her because she seemed to have the things I wanted: the jobs, the drive, the attractive personality and the sex appeal. I was feeling so inadequate and insecure on the inside that I was looking to the outside for blame, and she was the easiest target. I also realised that she wasn’t really my “arch-nemesis”: she was not out to get me, things just seemed to come to her more naturally and that was all. Whilst I was wasting my time feeling hard done-by, she was out there living her life, and I am sure not wasting a minute of it on me.

The last I heard, my former arch-nemesis was travelling the world pursuing her dreams. I wish her well and I am thankful for the lessons she taught me.