The Upside of Second Place



Three times I’ve competed in the short story contest my writer’s group holds each year.

Three times I’ve come in second.


Coming in second is that place of being where you wonder if you’d just made a little bit more effort you could have won. Could I have tweaked a little more, found a better word or a fresher metaphor? What could I have altered that would have vaulted my story into first place?

The downside of second, apart from that not-quite-good-enough feeling is the temptation to listen to the voice of the inner critic.

You know, the one who says, “You’re not good enough. You’ll never be good enough. There’s no point in trying.”

There’s lots of quotes from successful people who say second place is a place for losers. Not exactly a motivating thought.

But if I remind myself to tune out the inner critic and listen to the voice of reason (when it does bother to speak), I get a different message.

First, second place is better than third. And it’s a whole lot better than fourth, or last.

Most people never make it to second place. So it’s a position to be celebrated. As Lauren Alaina said,

“I didn’t lose. I got second. That’s still winning.”

Second is the place that just a little more effort can put you into first. Second is where you dig a bit deeper and make yourself better than you thought you could be.

Second can be a very motivating place to be. The only losers in second place are the ones who allow it to discourage them from pursuing their dreams, or who are content with second.

The true winners who come in second are the ones that rejoice that they did as well as they did, and then channel that joy into making greater efforts to get to first.

And that’s where I am today.

The goal of the contest is to help us all become better writers, so everything learned by participating is valuable. I’ve learned a lot over the years about dialogue and scene, and how to tighten up the action or create conflict or suspense.

And besides, sometimes an early victory can lead to a later defeat.

Just think about the movie Star Wars. The original movie won awards only in the technical and soundtrack categories. But it went on to become the first in a wildly popular franchise that has made millions.

So it goes to show. Awards don’t mean everything. But they sure can be nice.

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