Second Lead Syndrome

Second Lead Syndrome

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Create Your Best Future

Second Lead Syndrome

We find comfort among those who agree with us — growth among those who don’t.

~Frank A. Clark

I have sold my first young adult novel; it’s being published any day now with a major publishing house and with any luck, I’m going to spend the rest of my life writing books for teens. I’m a key player in a really amazing non-profit that I think is going to change the world one day. I’ve traveled the world. I’ve earned my undergraduate and master degrees. I got that job, rocked that interview, earned my own money and even, briefly, went to school with the Prince of Wales.

I’ve achieved personal and professional success, and there is so much more I’m looking forward to.

And I wouldn’t have done any of it if someone had actually believed in me.

Maybe that’s a little overdramatic to say, but I didn’t get it. I never got it. And not in the sense of understanding — it wasn’t that I didn’t comprehend “it.” What I mean is that, in a constellation of gold stars, I was the dying light of a red dwarf planet — dim, flickering, and completely overshadowed by the glowing lovelies around me. Whatever “it” happened to be — success, praise, extra credit — I wasn’t going to get it.

That was high school for me. That was life for me. I went to an all-girls Catholic school and, despite having uniforms for equality, I somehow managed to look sloppier and less put-together than other girls. In junior year, when we all applied for the exclusive AP History course that you could take as a junior (as opposed to the more widely offered, less exclusive APs we could all take in senior year) I had the PSAT scores to qualify for the class — but since we had something like eighteen merit scholars in my grade, the class was filled by girls who had higher PSAT scores. Rather than start another class for the “extras” who qualified, we just got bumped.

I was just on the cusp of qualifying for several different honors societies in high school (which looked fabulous on college transcripts) but didn’t quite make it.

When I went out for the school play . . . oh, well, who am I kidding? I was lucky just to be cast in the school play. I can’t sing, dance or act. It was a miracle I didn’t take the theater down in flames as a dancing, singing, acting turtle that was purposefully cut out of most other versions of Alice in Wonderland.

For my senior bioethics project, we had to design a personal manifesto — our own Code of Ethics. I agonized over the thing; I dearly loved it. I wrote these short stories about my friends and about what my ethics really meant to me, about how I saw the world working and what I could do to make it better. I wrote about how being a strong, empowered girl was important to me. I made it beautiful; I was one of those artsy kids so I knew my way around a glue stick and some quotes. And when I handed it in like a prized pony, it was returned to me with a three page note on pink notepaper in red ink (yes, I still have it, and the Code of Ethics) that accused me of demonstrating an utter lack of belief in God, and grading me accordingly.

Never mind that I do have a ludicrously strong faith in God. Never mind, even, that the project assignment hadn’t even mentioned that. When it came down to it, I just wasn’t the favorite. I wasn’t the darling of high school.

For a long time, I had the biggest chip on my shoulder about this. I thought it was the teachers’ faults: how could they not see my potential? Then I blamed my fellow students: What does she have that I don’t? Can’t they see she doesn’t deserve any of this?

I was a grumpy teenager. I was always coming up short; I would never be the first in line, I would never be the star, I would never be appreciated. I was smart and I was driven and I wanted for one moment to be the best. I had English teachers who encouraged me and supported me and said my writing was good, and yes, I did have people who believed in me. My mom seems to be a big fan of mine, but I suspect nepotism at work.

I was never the star.

I’ll tell you what; being the star is thoroughly overrated. In some of the work I’ve been doing lately, I’ve had the honor of getting back together with some of the girls from my high school, and we all sing the same song — we were never the favorites. We were never the stars. One of them is a singer and songwriter. One is a successful business lady. One founded and runs the non-profit I work with. One works for the archdiocese and rocks her Catholic for all it’s worth (though we kind of disagree that she wasn’t anyone’s favorite). In short, they are some of the coolest people I know.

We all came out of high school with righteous anger and resentment because things weren’t handed to us. We came out with the “Well I’ll show them!” promise tattooed on our foreheads. We all doggedly worked harder and longer than our illustrious high school counterparts because we had something to prove.

For me, every day I was chased by the idea that someone thought I wasn’t good enough — because I disagreed. I knew I wanted to be a writer from a really young age, but I kept getting told that it wasn’t smart, I wouldn’t make it, I couldn’t succeed. I wasn’t the valedictorian, I wasn’t good enough for AP History, and I was a god-awful turtle. But I knew, better than anyone else, what I was capable of.

When someone tells you that you can’t, the worst thing you can do is believe them. There will always be people in life and in high school that don’t seem to earn the things they receive; there will be people who doubt you and don’t see the passion and fire you have within and relegate you to the role of second lead.

But do you know what the most amazing thing about personal success is? Proving every single one of them wrong. Because it just so happens that in the process, when you trust your own heart, you demonstrate to the world the infinite power of believing in yourself.

~AC Gaughen

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