"You’re never going to improve in life if you keep competing with people who stink. You’ve got to challenge yourself. If you don’t, complacency sets in, and bad things happen when we become complacent."
These are the words of Psych‘s Henry Spencer (Corbin Bernsen) to his son, Shawn, in 1990, after young Shawn has schooled young Gus (again) in one-on-one basketball. It’s fitting that Shawn began learning this lesson on the basketball court, because athletes may learn it earlier and better than the rest of us. The simple truth is that the surest way to excellence is to compete with people whose talent and skill is beyond our own—a principle that is easy to accept in theory and harder to accept from the losing side of the scoreboard.
Those of us who don’t play competitive sports would really like to believe that the principle of "improvement equals play with skilled opponents minus the guaranteed win" doesn’t apply in the wider world. But exposure to people who are more highly skilled improves a person’s skill in his or her chosen craft, no matter the craft. Excitement might seem an appropriate emotional response to having the opportunity to develop our own skills by learning and growing through the skills and experiences of others. The problem is, excitement is usually not the emotion—at least not the only emotion—I’m feeling. For his part, grown-up Shawn (James Roday) was not the least bit interested in working with a new, highly skilled criminal profiler in the latest episode of Psych, let alone in how working with this criminal profiler might improve Shawn’s own skills.
Instead of appreciating the opportunity to improve, Shawn spent all of his time being angry, trying to discredit and one-up the profiler because he disliked how the profiler seemed to always be "stealing his thunder."
Shawn proceeded to treat the profiler first as a murder suspect and then, after discovering that the profiler’s educational credentials were false (admittedly sketchy … don’t try this at home) as a fraud, even though Shawn’s qualifications for his job as consultant to Santa Barbara’s finest are far from traditional. In short, throughout the entire episode, cleverly titled "Shawn 2.0," Shawn tries to negate the presence of the skilled criminal profiler, as if his career depended upon it, rather than appreciate his expertise.
I won’t lie. I have done the exact same thing Shawn did, and I doubt I’m the only one. Given the presence of a highly-skilled person in any arena of my life, I am prone to try and assert the superiority of my skills as if the world is not big enough to sustain and benefit from any combination of skills the two of us might have to offer. Further, in situations where the skills of my peers seem to duplicate or surpass my own, while I haven’t said it in words, I have been tempted to ask God "why would you do this to me?"
This is, undoubtedly, the wrong question. When I am thinking rationally, I don’t believe God brings people into our lives as something He does to us, but rather something he does for us. In life, as in Henry Spencer’s assessment of athletics, we never improve to our fullest potential without the presence of those who skills and talents reach beyond our own to model for us what we could be and to urge us on in the journey toward getting there. If we don’t have this tension, we stagnate and accomplish nothing good.
I’m not sure why we feel that the presence of someone else’s skills automatically threatens our own place in the universe. Why do you think that is? I do believe that when we feel threatened in this way, we have lost sight of how God feels about each one of us and have started focusing on each other instead. Comparing ourselves to each other is an unproductive cycle that leads to all of us losing ourselves. That loss takes away from the people around us the contributions we were uniquely created to offer. In contrast, when Jesus calls us to lose ourselves for His sake, that loss allows us to give to the people around us to an extent we can’t even imagine.