The Uncommon App: Being the Best

Graphic by Isabella Xie

By Maisie Bernstein
Newton South High School Class of 2017

At five years old, I discovered that I wasn’t special.

I had learned how vast the world was and how, in this world with what seems like an infinite amount of people, there will always be someone better than me at just about everything. It was at this age that I decided to begin my lifelong quest to be the best at something. Only then could I truly stand out.

Throughout my childhood, I picked up many hobbies, but none lasted. I tried swimming, horseback-riding, knitting, and painting. I tried so hard to be the best or at least good at all of these sports and hobbies but was always left feeling frustrated by my lack of talent.

Because my parents always complimented me on my intelligence, I decided in fourth grade to be the smartest. Although I got top grades on all of my elementary school tests and was well prepared for middle school, a wave of disappointment hit me in middle school as I realized that I was not and could never be the smartest. Day by day, I was outsmarted and outperformed by others. By the time I entered high school, it seemed that everyone was a scholar, and even though I was taking many high-level classes, I receded into my perceived averageness and finally gave up on being the smartest in my school.

At the beginning of freshman year, my actor friends persuaded me to try working in the Costume Shop. I had always been intrigued with fashion history, so I gave in to their pleas and one afternoon walked down the dusty steps into the basement where the Newton South costume room is. Thrilled by the sight of the hundreds of costumes that found their home in the basement and breathing in the smell of vintage clothes, I instantly found comfort among the costumes and the community that theatre promised.

Under the tutelage of Martha Heller, who knew everything about costume designing and construction, I rose through the ranks of the Costume Shop, from executing small yet vital tasks, like sewing buttons and giving opinions that barely mattered, to becoming Assistant Costume Designer, designing outfits and organizing dates and budgets and learning how to think quickly under pressure during quick changes backstage. I loved the process of it: finding inspiration, drawing out designs, sewing or finding the costume, and fitting it to the actor. By junior year, I was Head Designer of the big winter musical, Urinetown, which was the biggest responsibility that I had ever had. I was organized, efficient, and created some amazing pieces. The play ran smoothly and I could not have been prouder of myself.

While I spent much of sophomore year splitting my time between costumes and ultimate frisbee (another sport I tried out), I quickly realized that I enjoyed my days in the dark, dusty Costume Shop far more than the days on the bright, sunny field. It was so clear that I was far better at costuming than anything that I had done before, but that wasn’t what was important to me.

No, what was important was not that I was good at it, but that it made me happy. It didn’t matter that I wouldn’t continue costuming as a career or that I was not the best at it. What mattered was that I have something that I loved to do. I now don’t waste my time with things that bring me little joy. Instead, I fill my life with activities that are important to me and that I’m passionate about.

For my entire life, I searched for the thing I was best at when I really should have been searching for the thing that gave me the most joy. I might not be the smartest, or the fastest, or the best at anything, but that doesn’t bother me. Doing something that I love is special enough.