There are people, groups, teams, companies, and even entire countries in this world that are known for being good at what they do. Sometimes they are known for being the best at it. What pops into your mind when someone talks about German cars? Or when someone mentions the name Eliud Kipchoge? Or when you see the Apple logo on a billboard? Or when you watch the American national basketball team warming up for a game? Success pops into your head, doesn’t it? And lots of winning. Admiration and respect probably pop up as well, possibly a little jealousy too.

Being good at something is something everyone aspires to for themselves. Being the best is desired even more because the best are the best among equals. They are loved, glorified, adored, revered, and imitated. They show the best of humanity, the best of what we can be. Now we don’t all have to be the best at anything. We don’t even have to aspire to it. But it might be good if we were good at something. We may all aspire to it, and a good many of us are good at something, but it should be something we actively pursue.

There are so many benefits to being good at something that it’s hard to come up with anything negative. But there are downsides to being bad at something. No one wants to be the last one picked on the playground because they aren’t as good as the other kids. No one wants to buy or use something made poorly. We sometimes trick ourselves into thinking that people won’t care if something is poorly done, but they do.

It’s why designers are reminded that while their clients and customers are not always aware of good design, they recognise bad design.

Let’s see if we can exemplify what being good at something is and what it can do for a person. For the first example, let’s use the master carpenter Emmanuel. A master carpenter can charge whatever he wants for his work. Whoever buys furniture from him will pay whatever price is quoted because they know they may not or cannot get better anywhere else. And when he comes over to repair your beloved mahogany chair, you’ll pay him whatever he asks because he’ll do the job extremely well. In fact, he may be the only one who can get the job done. Expertise can be invaluable.

Let’s think of another example, where being good at something gives you a leg up socially. Think of Victor, a mechanic who lives in a setting a lot like the African one, where people are very close and friendly with each other and where a sense of community is valued very highly. John repairs most of the cars in his community. Why? He’s honest and thorough. He finishes repair jobs on time. He’s not greedy. And he’s very good at his job. People flock to him with their cars, desirous to be beneficiaries of his good work. He is held in very high regard in his community, and his reputation precedes him. He gets invited to places and events he may not have got into were it not for his work. He’s a big man in name and fame, all because he’s good at being a mechanic.

Another example is in the recognition and respect for being good at something. Irene is CEO of a very successful tech company she founded. She defied the odds to get where she is today. She’s had to fight her way to the top and not let prejudices, challenges, and the haters get in her way. She’s received a lot of recognition for her achievements, as well as the respect and admiration of people, even those who doubted her. She works very hard (sometimes too much). She does things the right way and hardly ever puts a foot wrong. She’s also drop-dead gorgeous and wickedly smart, both of which help her case a lot. But she would never have received the recognition and respect she gets without being very good at her job.

There’s something else that being good at something does for a person – it works wonders for one’s self-image and self-esteem. It gives one purpose and meaning and lifts one’s spirits. It gives them something to be proud of within themselves and that they can affirm their worth through. It’s hard to keep affirming yourself when reality says the opposite. Being good at something allows you to ground your thoughts and beliefs in reality. And when things get overwhelming or stressful, whatever you’re good at can offer the relief or distraction that you need. So being good at something might be good for your mental health.

All that said, being good at something from the outset is an extreme rarity. There aren’t that many geniuses in the world. The rest of us have to work at something to get good at it. That’s fine because not everyone can be a genius. In the same way, no one could be you (yes you, the person reading this). So we will likely start out being bad at something, but over time we will get better at it. But we have to keep at it in order to see that improvement. We have to experience some of the downsides and discomfort of being bad at something to get to the confidence and comfort of being good at it.

If you want to be the best, go ahead and chase that. There are few higher callings than being the best at something. But there are prices to pay for that, so be careful what you wish for. Being the best requires relentless effort and work. It beseeches dogged dedication to one’s pursuit. It demands sacrifice in many ways: sacrificing spending time with family and friends, sacrificing having fun for working and learning and practicing, sacrificing your time and attention to other things in life to limit distractions. Other things in life suffer in the pursuit of being the best and you have to be willing to accept all that comes with it, the good and the bad. It is important to decide if that is what you want for yourself and if you are willing to accept and live with the downsides. The reward is a big one. Whether it is big enough, worth it, or inflated in value is up to you to decide.

Be good at something, even if it may seem trivial to other people. It may turn into something very valuable down the road. Be good at trying to be better at things as well, to elevate your standards and expect more from life and from yourself. It is important for progress, both personal and societal. Hard work pays off, so work hard at being good.