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This I Believe: Being Second Place

Justin Zhang - Litchfield High School
Beatrice Bonner
NPR Illinois 91.9 UIS
Justin Zhang - Litchfield High School

As far back as I can remember, being first at anything would make you instantly a winner. Being first in a race: winner. Being the top student: winner. Being the first to turn in your homework or test or whatever you had to turn in that day: winner. Being first at anything and everything would make you a winner no matter the situation. Due to this mindset, throughout my life, I always strived to be first in everything, no matter the cost.

Although my mindset changed one day. It was a warm summer afternoon, and I decided to challenge my neighbor to another bike race. This wasn’t a rare occurrence in my neighborhood; after all, being a winner in a bike race gave you credibility. The terms were simple: start on top of the steep driveway that was in our neighborhood and the first one across the street was the winner. On our venture to this steep driveway, I remember both of us being very pumped with energy. Once on top of the driveway, we counted down from three, and we both exploded off the driveway. After a few moments of cycling, I scanned around for my neighbor. He was nowhere in sight until I peeked backward and saw him. A grin slowly appeared on my face as I looked forward. I looked back again and started to laugh at the distance that had continued to grow. Amidst my laughter, I felt my bike chain rattle and crack. Suddenly, I felt my chain hit the ground, and with that, I came to a halt with my face on the ground.

After this experience, I learned something. Being first does make you a winner, but there’s a problem that also lies with it. While you’re winning or after you’ve won, your attention is focused on who you beat instead of on how you could have improved. Unlike people in first place, people in second place have the motivation to be first and, with that, motivation to improve. Being second place makes you a winner. You have the opportunity to improve and better yourself and reach new standards. I believe this is a true winner: a person who becomes a better version of themselves. I believe in improvement. I believe in being in second place.

This I Believe Illinois is NPR Illinois' annual essay program for Illinois high school seniors. An expression of where their minds are as they prepare to enter the adult world. This I Believe was started by radio journalist Edward R. Murrow in 1951 to allow anyone able to distil the guiding principles by which they lived. Special thank you to our sponsors: The Rotary Club of Springfield Sunrise, State Journal-Register, BLH Computers, KEB, and Marine Bank.

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