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On Coming In Second

Many moons ago, I won my first competition. I think I was in second grade, and it was a spelling bee. Soon after that, I started playing the flute, and my competitive spirit found a place to blossom.

I spent decades finding, preparing for, and--in many cases--winning competitions, auditions, scholarships, and jobs. I've always loved the thrill of stepping onstage to perform with an orchestra, knowing that I'd won the privilege to be there.

However, the music world can be cruel in equal measure. For every audition I won, I'd lose six. For every 15 performance jobs I applied for, I'd get answers back to two. Every other flutist was a competitor, every opportunity was winning something that lots of other people wanted too.

Last year, I won "Best Massage Therapist In Mid Michigan" in The City Pulse's "Top of the Town" contest. It was my first time in the contest, my first year owning my own practice, and it was thrilling. Gratifying. My hard work and dedication paid off! I hung my certificate in my office, put it on my website, and told all my friends and clients.

This year, we were in it again! But this year, we came in second.

For someone who has spent decades of her life competing for a living, it was a let down. I wanted to be able to say that I was "The Best!" I wanted to have bragging rights. I wanted to be without question the biggest dog in this fight.

But today, I realized why none of this has sat very well with me. This isn't a fight. This isn't a contest. And my attention has gone in entirely the wrong direction.

When I teach massage therapy students, or coach my employees, I hammer into them the "prime directive" of my style of massage therapy:

Before you do or say anything at all, ask yourself:

Is this about me, or is it about the client?

Before I say anything during a massage, I think hard about why I'm speaking. If it's because I'm curious about where they got their tattoo, that would be to satisfy myself, my curiosity. If I want to ask if they're warm enough, that's about the client's comfort. If I ask why they dyed their hair purple, that's about me, but if I want to know if they take anticoagulants, that's for their safety.

This contest was about me. It wasn't about serving my clients better, or putting out information that could help someone decide what treatments might help them, or even educational material to help other massage therapists do better jobs.

Nope. It was about me being fabulous. Important. Ugh. Popular.

It didn't make my massages any better, didn't make you more relaxed, didn't make my students any smarter or even make my dog happier.

So, if I ever do this contest again, it's going to be about you. About whose clients are the happiest. About spreading joy and appreciation. I don't really know how I'd do that, but massage therapy isn't a competition, it's a collaboration. And other massage therapists aren't the opposition, the competition, or "the other team," they're my friends and colleagues and students.

Of course I would have been delighted if I'd come in first again, but in a way, I'm glad I didn't. You don't learn that much by winning every time. Real triumph comes from sticking with your priorities.

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