Why Do I Have to Be the Best That I Can Be?

And what does that mean, anyway?

Posted Jan 18, 2021

Have you noticed how many messages there are exhorting you to be the best you can be or to live your best possible life? There are websites, self-help books, podcasts, webinars, and more. Can anyone let me know when and why “being the best” became the standard to reach for? What if I want to aspire to mediocrity? Can I not just get on with life? Will I only achieve lasting happiness if I strive to make my life the best? Best in comparison to what? And is lasting happiness the treasure I should be seeking?

I quickly tumble down a very confusing rabbit hole once I start dwelling on these ideas. Life is not a competition or a race. Life is control. It is happening right now, and it was happening just then. Were you at your best for those happenings? It will still be happening in a minute or two. Will you be ready? Pumped up? At your absolute best?

Sadly, there is no gold medal at the end of it all even if you do manage to hit the “best” jackpot for most of the breaths you take in and out. Whatever that might mean. Fortunately, there’s also no dunce’s cap to perch atop the lifeless heads of all those who didn’t manage to live their best life.

As you might be able to tell by now, I have a lot of trouble even understanding what “living your best life” means. It’s one of those word sequences that can quickly whip up waves of excitement, ambition, and motivation but can then be followed by the deflating emptiness that always chaperones hollow ideas. It is wonderfully refreshing, like standing under the waterfall of a mountain stream, as well as intensely liberating, to understand life as a process of control.

 Thanayu Jongwattanasillkul/123RF
Source: Thanayu Jongwattanasillkul/123RF

Life is the ceaseless campaign of keeping the world as we experience it in the states we prefer. We have lots of different preferences that will, from time to time, demand our attention. Keeping the difference very small between the way the world is and the way we want it to be is the secret to contentment.

For some people living in particular environments with access to the resources they require, the campaign is more straightforward than for others. Some people live in such barren, unfriendly, or unstable environments that the task becomes a constant struggle. For them, the difference is regularly stretched beyond what is comfortable or tolerable.

Whichever situation people are in, people are people and people are controllers. Understanding the process of control might even inform the ways we assist and support each other. We could get the idea that it is more useful to help people identify their own important standards rather than cajoling them to adopt the priorities we have placed at the top of our list. Once they are familiar with their own personalised set of priorities, it might also be helpful to explore the things that could be blocking the realisation of these preferences. Sometimes, the block can be competing ideas the person is simultaneously pursuing and at other times it can be impoverished and even hostile environments.

Think of a father whose main concern is finding ways to thwart the local militia frequenting his village from recruiting his 14-year-old son to their cause. And what about a young ambitious schoolteacher who has just learned she did not get the principal position she applied for? Clearly, the dad's and the teacher's needs are unrelated. But, should either of these people seek assistance, the helping principle remains the same. For different reasons, they are unable to close the gap between the way their situations are and the way they want them to be. Only things that enable them to shrink their gaps will be experienced as helpful from their individual perspectives. Perhaps the recommendation to be the best you can be might resonate with the schoolteacher. For the father in the village, the same advice might seem like a daft and irrelevant suggestion.  

So, by all means, if you understand what “being the best you can be” actually means, and it’s important to you, continue to chase that ideal! But, if some other standard rocks your socks, go for that instead. It’s the most delicious irony that the unwavering pursuit of being the best you can be is still a control process. There it is then, be whatever "you" you want to be. It’s your life. You get to set your rules.