every city tells a story……..

Second Place

There was the discernible tone of disappointment in the voice of Jeanne Gang for just a brief moment.  Her voice caught on the words, “second place” as she described the outcome of her bid for a major commission.    Jeanne Gang is one of a handful of female archi-stars in the architecture world (two to be precise): a woman who in my mind exemplifies all that being an architect can be.  Her practice is smart, thoughtful and kick ass.  She has designed skyscrapers, waterfronts, small moments and timeless monuments.  She has won a McCarthur Award and surely is in line for a Pritzker.  When I was a little girl, dreaming of being an architect, I wanted to grow up to be Jeanne Gang and she had yet to be born.   I did not yearn to be that pompous smug Frank Lloyd Wright, or the odd little creature known as Le Corbusier although it was cool that he was a painter too.  No, I was going to forge a new way, a feminine way, gentile and soft spoken way and that way is Jeanne’s.  Enough said, she rocks. So when someone who to have reached the pinnacle of her profession displays that soft tone of hesitation and defeat, it caught in my ear and got me to thinking about the near miss sadness of second place.

There are some times, major architectural commissions being one of them, when first place is the goal.  It’s nice to know that you were the second choice but that isn’t what dreams are made of.  You wanted to build that building.  You wanted to be the one for that special man.  You wanted to cross the ribbon first and feel it breaking against your skin.  You wanted to be in first place.  One of the great beauties of racing is that there are so many different first places.  There is a lesson there.  I am not going to place in Boston but Santa Rosa in my age group, maybe…   I guess life is like that too and maybe that is the lesson: to find that balance between the big fish and the small sea.  In Boston, perhaps I can’t place but I could beat my time if I put my mind to it.

Second place, after all is almost all the way home.  It can be inspiring to realize that you were so close.  If you had just eaten a different breakfast, slept better, trained a little harder, dug a little deeper,  the commission would have been yours.

Every four years like clockwork, emotions swell as I listen to the national anthem playing while a young Gold Medalist basks in the moment of her recognition, tears well up from a place I don’t quite understand.  Obviously something wrong with my childhood.  Or perhaps something deeper, more primal is happening here.  First place.

According to neurobiologists, our brains are hardwired to emphasis the negative.  In the game of survival, it is better to think the worst more often than to be unprepared.  But to foster serenity, acceptance and happiness, we need to train our minds to embrace the positive, to relish our moments of strength.  My medals collect like memories by my bed and yes, they are just stories.  But they are stories of success, big or small.   They are stories of crossing the finish line and this is as concrete and tangible as the medal hanging on my neck and the blood pumping in my heart.

What is it about us that craves all of those medals? The first time that I placed, I was so excited.  I hung the medal around my neck and jumped for joy, proudly displaying my beautiful medal.  I ran home only to discover that there was only one other woman in my age group crazy enough to show up on this rainy day in December.  But the possibility of placing had been planted like a seed in my psyche.  If the race is small enough….  The recession waxes and wanes, loved ones come and go, opportunities rise and fall, but running can be my constant companion.   If I make my training schedule and I follow it, if I run and pick a goal that is within my reach,  if I leap as high as I can, I can catch it.


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