Second Fiddle

I know I’m dating myself (the expression alone probably ‘dates’ me!) but do you remember the phrase ‘Marcia, Marcia, Marcia’ from the ‘70s Brady Bunch sitcom and ‘90s spoof movie with the same name?

It goes like this. Middle daughter Jan is jealous of her seemingly perfect older sister Marcia who appears to do everything better than her. She’s popular. She’s smart. She’s beautiful. She excels at everything she tries. She’s always got a great boyfriend …


Don’t we all have one or more ‘Marcias’ in our lives? And doesn’t it drive us all a little CRAZY, no matter how secure and confident we strive to be?

Daughter Jamie encountered hers back in the fifth grade when Melinda Rubin (not her real name) came to her elementary school. Jamie had secured the coveted ‘first violin’ chair in orchestra in third and fourth grade and was feeling pretty comfortable and proud of herself. That is, until Melinda came to town and, quicker than you can say ‘Marcia, Marcia, Marcia’, took over her seat.


Trying to appease a visibly upset little ‘second fiddler’, the orchestra leader told Jamie, in what’s now Cooke family lore, “Jamie, Melinda’s no Heifetz.” Mrs. Kenyon was referring to Russian-American violinist Jascha Heifetz.


She may not have been the greatest violinist of all time, but Melinda did seem to be the best all-around student. Besides violin, she played flute in band if memory serves, sang in chorus, landed first string spot on the tennis team (Jamie this time ‘second racquet’). Melinda was also fairly popular, and involved in student government and her community. As you may have guessed by now, she was ultimately named Valedictorian and gave a beautiful, mature, beyond her years speech that moved everyone in the ceremony out on the high school football field.

She was really nice too, so it’s not like we didn’t all like her and admire all her accomplishments. And Jamie was friends with her. But still!

Melinda was also the one who immediately got her own brand-new big SUV the minute she attained her driver’s license, and drove it the mile or so back and forth from school every day. Jamie says they called it ‘The Green Monster,’ which years later is pretty funny (punny?) given what they call jealousy.

Jamie constantly bemoaned her own walk to and from school (just under a mile, so not exactly Abraham Lincoln’s famed five-mile-each way trek, though she still reminds us of the couple of rainy days when she couldn’t get a ride).

Like Mrs. Kenyon, we tried to give Jamie a perspective check … pointing out not everyone had a car and that our family wasn’t about trying to keep up with the ‘Jones’s, as the expression goes, or the Rubins in this case! It was actually a pretty nice Brady Bunch-type moment where you try every once in awhile to impart those parental values. But I think it had as much of an impact on Jamie as the ‘Heifetz’ speech – translated, not really at all.

The point is, of course, there are always people who achieve more (and less) than us. And if we feel good about ourselves and who we are, it really doesn’t matter. But I think as human beings, we all feel the sting of being ‘outperformed’ sometimes.


A movie back from the ‘70s comes to mind, called Starting Over, starring Burt Reynolds, Jill Clayburgh and Candice Bergen. Burt’s character is going out with Jill’s but still has feelings for his ex-wife, played by Candice. Candice’s character is everything Jill’s is not … glamorous, gorgeous, sophisticated, wildly successful (as a pop singer). Jill is a cute, striving, somewhat insecure kindergarten teacher.

In one telling scene, Jill and Candice are awkwardly in the car together, when Jill starts talking about how she’s struggling to get her Master’s degree. Candice says something like, “Oh yes, I remember how tough it was when I got my Master’s.” When Jill replies, totally deflated, “You have your Master’s?,” you can palpably feel her disappointment, losing the one edge she thought she had over Ms. Perfect. (Spoiler alert: more substantive Jill does get her man, but not without a true romantic-comedyt struggle throughout a good part of the movie’s plot.)

Embarrassing to admit, but even in my relatively self-assured adulthood, I still struggle with my own ‘green monsters’ and it pisses me off sometimes!

The young, blond, blue-eyed, incredibly white-teethed, size-one, impeccably dressed, friends-with-everyone, moving-up-in-the-ranks faster than most coworker, for example. Michelle (not her real name either) rendered me basically invisible every time I walked through the office hallways with her. You might call her ‘your typical nightmare,’ as best friend Marie described Harry’s new girlfriend in When Harry Met Sally.

I don’t normally care about such superficial things, but check this out. I went down to the cafeteria every single day, with the same cashier weighing my big salad. I thought we had a little rapport. I knew her name and had even written a little ‘thank you’ article to her in the company newsletter. I started to realize she didn’t even know my name. Michelle went down with me very occasionally, but she’d get the biggest greetings and shout-outs, by name, all about her earrings, her blouse, etc. I jokingly quipped how it’s tough to be friends with someone so attractive and lovable, to which the older company mailman said, “I think you’re pretty cute.” Definitely a pity compliment, but thanks Jerry!

There have been others at work over the years who seem faster, more productive, smarter, work-around-the-clock but still with a seemingly bustling, constant social and community-minded life after work hours. If you walk 10k steps a day, they track 11k … you get the picture.

My cure for the occasional second fiddle blues? Laughter, perspective, the knowledge that no one’s as ‘perfect’ as they seem, and the reminder that I’m pretty darn ok too, just like the rest of us who are definitely too hard on ourselves at times. Just play your music and continue to shine!

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