Yeah, I quit dance lessons at the age of five. Okay, that may have been a pivotal moment, but I had my reasons for sitting cross legged on the stage in the middle of the recital: I didn't want to be the frog in the dance academy's production of "Dr. Dolittle's If I Could Talk To The Animals". Whatever. But, the thing is, as a grown up, I guess we all get a little competitive with ourselves at a certain age. I wanted to be the best podcaster, the best show host, the best writer, the best case manager (when I was in the insurance business), the best business person, the best cat owner, the best wife, the best lesbian (is that even a thing?), the best at sports, the best at cooking, the best game player-- the list goes on and on.
Although I never had to strive at being the best daughter because like I said, my mother was always there to support and cheer anything I did and she let me know with every card, every clap, and every hug. My father passed away when I was 19, but I even remember him praising my softball skills and my art work from high school, things that were so important at the time.
I can't remember the exact moment that it hit me, or even if it was a gradual change but something clicked and all of the sudden I began to realize that when I was so focused on being the best, I was missing out on the actual experiences themselves. It was all a bunch of extremes, either I was doing/being the best or I was pissed that I wasn't. There was no in between. Knowing myself as I do now, I'm pretty certain that the thing that made me come to this realization was that I was exhausted from the two extremes. I wasn't having any fun. I was either raging with confidence or wallowing in insecurity- those were the two constants in my being the best. Also, theres a fine line between being confident and being cocky. Nobody likes a cocky asshole. Not saying that was me, but from where I sit now, I can honestly say, in this day in age- there are a LOT of cocky assholes out there and I feel bad for them.
I surely don't think changing my perspective is any indication of failure, or giving up. Like I said, it was a matter of being exhausted at trying to keep up the momentum and operating on praise. I can remember thinking, at some point in my thirties, maybe it wasn't so hard to be a great case manager, handle a multi million dollar account, keep a super clean condo, have two happy healthy cats, a great relationship with my family, a successful podcast, a big circle of friends, and still have time to watch football on Sundays and take a nap, knowing I had a fridge full of groceries and options if I wanted to go out socializing. But, the truth was that it WAS hard. I mean, seriously. Even though there was no better feeling riding the "Best" high. Then there were times when I would sit on my sofa, in tears, because I took out a second mortgage on my condo, to keep up with the Joneses (as they say), I had recently been diagnosed with Adult On-Set Diabetes, my Jeep was in the repair shop, my mother being diagnosed with MS, knowing there was nothing I could do to help her situation, not feeling like going into work and dealing with other people's bullshit and feeling like I was the biggest failure on the planet.
I guess as I've gotten older, I remember the emotions that came with feeling of not being the best and over the years, those feelings became triggers and as I grew up I knew that I didn't want the failure feeling triggers anymore. It's always an effort when you want to change something within yourself. This was no different. It's a challenge every moment when you have to change your instinctive perspective of a situation but I did it. Over time, it's become easier, and although I still get sweaty palms and can feel my heart rate accelerate when I see my podcast numbers slow up, or I get constructive criticism from my senior editor at my new job, or my Mom has a bad day, or my house is a little messy, I still make every effort to relax and accept it, knowing things will level out, get better, or even just understand that I tried my best and that's all that matters. In the grand scheme of things, my Mom is doing good more often, my diabetes is controllable with pills, my house is fine, my work is fine, my wife is fine, my life is fine. I'm happy with how it's rounding out. I don't have to be the best at everything all the time. My family, my wife, my friends, my pets, my co workers, my business and show are all still here and no one has stink-eyed me or abandoned me or made me feel unworthy of anything. If I've lost anyone along the way because of who I am, they weren't worth keeping around anyway. So, why should I stress myself out trying to be number one at everything? Life is full of mistakes. You make e'm, you learn from 'em and you move on, hoping to not repeat 'em.
Listen, people in your twenties, I know being the best is what drives you, and that's perfectly fine. It's probably what you feel defines you. I just think later on in life, you'll find that other things become more important than being the best and when that happens, it's a beautiful thing! It's like you've been surfing the biggest waves but all of the sudden, sitting on the board, floating and watching the sun rise or set just might beat that feeling of riding a wave for a change and that's not a bad thing.
One of the most important things I've come to learn is that it really feels good to be actually experiencing things for what they are and not consume myself with what the outcome is going to be -anything really- like events, life moments, other people's happiness, other people's successes. As long as I'm happy, and I'm not causing anyone grief, why should I put so much pressure on myself to be perfect? I feel like I've given myself permission to live for me, and not for anyone else. Not a friend, not a family member, not a co-worker, not society- no one but me. And it's exhilarating, to say the least.
Now that I'm well into my forties, I can honestly say that it's been pretty cool to NOT carry around the weight of being perfect, or being the best or worrying about what other people think. I can look at something I wrote and be proud of it before anyone else even sees it. I can do a chore and give myself a pat on the back. I can do a podcast about stuff I like and not worry about who else likes it, I can fold a fitted sheet the wrong way and not give a shit because, above of all, who even gives a crap about stuff like that? Who am I trying to impress? If your good at something, you'll always be good at it. You don't have to be good at everything. Fuck that fitted sheet.
Another thing about all this is that I don't think you can rush yourself into that phase of your life. You have to experience it organically. You may have to do a little honest soul-searching to come to grips with giving yourself permission to lighten up. You may still worry about other people's approval, like your parents, or friends. Maybe you're still figuring out who you are. Maybe you embrace the kind of challenge it poses, maybe your will power and sheer determination to be the best is what you like most about yourself. Ahh, I remember those days well. It just means you aren't ready. It'll happen, though. It's inevitable. It's nothing to try and stave off, or fight. Think of it as treating yourself a bit better, giving yourself a much needed break. Okay, maybe it won't happen for some because it's a sign of failure but I assure you it's not.
Whatever it is- I'll tell you this much- that "Best" pace won't last forever. I mean, listen, I'm not saying stop working out, stop pushing yourself in areas of interest, or to start telling people to fuck off, I'm just saying, mentally, once you've given yourself permission to take a break from that "Best" bitch, and you see that it's okay to let up on the gas pedal, I think you'll dig cruising into this new phase of life.