Why You Should Stop Trying to be the Best
Photo courtesy of Rob Cogswell.

Why You Should Stop Trying to be the Best

Written by Emilie

Topics: Multipotentialite Patterns

Our culture is obsessed with being the best. It doesn’t matter what you’re the best at. Just become the best at something, we are told.

The quest to become the best invokes a sort of false romanticism, much like The Question. Being the best is seen as this exciting, grandiose idea, but in reality it often leaves us feeling inadequate and broken.

An Impossible Task

The problem is that you can’t be the best. Nobody can.

Even if you were to dedicate your life to one pursuit, and deny all other parts of yourself, you would never get there. In almost every area, there will always be someone better (and someone worse) than you. Even if you happen to win that gold medal at the Olympics, someone will inevitably come after you and take that medal away. And anyway, it’s damn lonely at the top.

The pressure to be the best sets us up for failure. It also pits us against each other and creates an atmosphere where we’re constantly comparing ourselves to others, making us negative, insecure and judgmental.

Being the Best is Unnecessary, Really

As we’ve discussed here, here, and here, expertise is highly over-rated. What matters more than being the best, is being effective. Life should be about making a difference and bringing value to the world, not being at the top of your field.  (I actually believe that the greatest specialists don’t focus on being the best either. They focus on making a difference, and do it through specialization because that’s how they’re wired.)

But What about Becoming Your Best?

Ah yes, most specialists wishing to impose their mono-destined life on all of us, will no doubt throw out this argument. Okay, so if you can’t be the best in a particular field, what about becoming your best? MASTERY! EXPERTISE! (Cue the heavenly chorus.)

Going beyond your end point simply to please the world, is a waste of time. It’s especially a waste if you lose interest and want to kill yourself in the process.

Passion is what fuels learning, creativity and income. Once the passion is gone, the work will become tedious. Shouldn’t we be enjoying our lives? More than that, don’t our hearts know what’s right for us? Remember, you are not broken by default.

Unique Multipotentialite Strengths

Maybe there’s a reason that you feel drawn to so many different areas. Maybe you have your own strengths, that a specialist with their head down and focused, wouldn’t have the opportunity to develop. Things like broad, flexible thinking, the ability to speak the “language” of people in different fields so that you can help them understand each other and manage teams. The ability to synthesize disparate ideas and solve problems in one area by drawing on knowledge in an entirely different area. Being a fast learner, building off of past skills, using “good enough” skills to build a new entity without needing as much outside help, experiencing and understanding a wide array of what this world has to offer.

Multipotentialites are not only passionate about their interests, they’re passionate people in general. As a passionate, out-of-the-box thinker with a wide range of tools to draw from, you are in a unique position to inspire others.

Throwing out the need to be the best, or to find your one true calling, will free you. It will allow you to live a much more harmonious and fulfilling life– a life that is aligned with who you really are.

Your Turn

How has letting go of the need to be “the best” impacted your life?

19 Comments

  1. Nancy Nunn says:

    The pressure to be the best and the shame and judgement that goes along with it finds its way into many aspects of life if we let it. You must be the best at your profession, be the best wife, be the best mom, etc. Once I let go of that, my life, my parenting, my mood improved. I made some much needed changes in my life, and am still working on that.
    I am so happy I found your site. It let me know that I’m not alone in the way I think and do things. I have felt that there’s something wrong with me, that I can’t stay with something for very long, whether it’s a job, hobby, interest, whatever. It’s so nice to find someone with a different view. I’m now working on how to make money with my interests, and I’m learning so much from your site. Thank you.

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Nancy,

      That’s very cool to hear. It makes me think of something a friend once told me– that when he played little league, he was on the worst team. But then they switched coaches and the new coach told them not to worry about winning, but to just have fun. That’s when they started winning.

      Thanks for your comment. :)

  2. Denise says:

    Yes, thank you! I gave up on that quest a long time ago.

    Actually, I’m not sure I was ever trying to be the best, but I did used to buy into that hype. It’s almost a little narcissistic.

    I aim for doing my personal best by challenging myself frequently.

    Great topic, Emilie :)

  3. Kylie says:

    Oh, goodness. I appreciate this so much. Even though I *know* the importance of being willing to do things imperfectly, I can still get caught in the trap of wondering whether what I’m sharing with the world really is my “best” at any given time.

    It’s easy, though, to know whether what I’m doing is making an *impact*. Even a piece of writing (or a coaching session) that I might think isn’t as great as I’d like it to be will make an impact. Phew. Thanks for this!

    • Emilie says:

      Woo yeah, impact! I’m sure you make a real impact in the work you do, and in your students’ lives. Self-love is possibly the most valuable quality there is.

      p.s. how’s Brooklyn these days? Any chance you might swing by PDX sometime?

  4. I find this an oppressive idea too. Not just trying to be the best of everyone out there, but the “do your best” as well (it irritates me when people say that to me!). Both are utterly subjective standards and someone will always think you’re slacking or not good enough. And if you buy into it, you will always find a way to piss on your own achievements or get paralyzed by self doubt. It seems logically akin to me to the idea of never making mistakes. A ridiculous and unhealthy goal–I cannot go full bore every day, doing everything perfectly to the utmost. I’d burn out in a week! Do I do “my best” every day with everything I do? Absolutely not. I let things slide. I do it half-assed cause I have other shit to do. I make mistakes. I botch the job and have to start over. I get it done late. With SOME things I try really hard to do it well. I choose those times and those tasks for extra attention, accepting that I will probably make mistakes there too, and that yes, I could do more. But there is a time to call it DONE and move on. What I DO try to pay attention to every day is listening to my gut–rest when I need to rest, step away when I need to, play hooky just for a little joy when I need to, fudge when I need to. I feel it’s much more important to listen to yourself and be true to yourself than to “always do your best,” and carefully choosing when to “do your best” (and knowing when to call it DONE) helps us conserve our creative drive. I think joy, longevity of passion, and just getting your dream OUT THERE are more important than perfection of effort. I’ve never really been a slavedriver with myself, I lean more toward slacker, I just felt guilty for not doing “more”, and I used to think I would have to be some world-class something-or-other to be loved (i.e., I would never be loved). But then I realized that’s not why you love someone, and someone’s achievements or status is not what makes them lovable. I applied that to myself and it was very freeing.

    • Emilie says:

      So true, “the best” is completely subjective!

      Also funny you should mention playing hookie. I’ve frequently found that the days when I skip out on work (or law school, back in the day), are the days I end up being most productive– but on a different project. It’s almost as if the slight guilt of playing hookie, makes me put more into it. Or maybe I just appreciate the free time more. Either way, I’m a fan. :)

  5. Lakshmi says:

    Having been raised in a competitive educational environment, it is really hard to undo the condition of being the best, being No. 1, etc.
    I do believe that healthy competition can help us grow. I wonder what competitive athletes think about this concept. Their entire career is based on the premise of being the best.
    However, yes, I do agree, some of the greatest achievements come from a moment of flow, of enjoying the process and making a meaningful contribution.

    Thought-provoking post. I’m thinking of linking to this some time in the near future, if you don’t mind.

    Thanks.

    • Emilie says:

      Interesting, Lakshmi. I wasn’t raised that way at all. For instance, I did gymnastics as a kid, and my parents insisted I be in the non-competitive stream. I was always jealous of the other girls who got to compete for medals, but I appreciate my parents intent now.

      I do think there’s such thing as healthy competition. I feel it when I play board games and such, definitely. I think it’s natural. So yeah, maybe a bit of healthy competition is totally fine, as long as it’s productive and motivates us. It’s when it’s taken to an extreme that it becomes a problem.

      And sure, link away. :)

  6. Izzy says:

    Hi Emelie,
    This concept of “being the best” is something I battled with a lot in college and just when I got out of college. Eventually I realized it was a futile lifestyle.

    The problem with the goal of “being the best” is that everytime someone else fails I am closer to my goal. Therefore in my hopes of being the best a piece of me would enjoy others failures as I unconsciously knew this was helping me.

    Once I became aware of this it had a huge impact on me. I was forced to step back and start looking at my life through a different lens. I am no longer trying to be the best. I am just trying to be authentic.

    • Emilie says:

      Hey Izzy,

      You’re so right. We win when others lose. It’s awful.

      In truth, it’s positivity that brings good things into your life, helping to build others up. That does more than trying to win. Even in business, it’s best to view your “competitors” as possible partners and allies in the cause. That’s really what they are.

      Thanks for swinging by, ninja man. :)

  7. Erin says:

    Letting go of the need to be the best has let me explore a lot more. I grew up a total perfectionist, afraid to let anyone see that I didn’t, in fact, know everything. I wouldn’t try new things because I was afraid I’d fail at them — if I wasn’t great at something, I’d just pretend disinterest.

    I’m still working on that, but it’s getting better! I’m less afraid to make mistakes, to step outside my comfort zone and try new things. I’m slowly learning it’s much better to give it a go than worry about not being the best. :)

    • Emilie says:

      I think you’re doing a great job, Erin. From what I’ve seen, you’re definitely pushing yourself to step outside of that comfort zone. :)

      A lot of us multipods (myself included) worry about not being perfect in our various pursuits. But I’ve learned that perfection really doesn’t exist. And also, before intelligent action, comes action. Plain old, clumsy action.

      • Erin says:

        Thanks :) I’ve been doing a lot of bumbling around lately, and I’m having more fun with it than I’d ever have predicted.

        I actually posted about this on PT when I first joined, and people had some great advice. It helped a lot. I’ve realized that admitting what you don’t know can be hugely helpful — it opens up gaps in knowledge or skill that you then want to fill. It becomes more about learning and exploring than about comparing yourself to other people.

  8. I’ve always tried to be the best, whether it was sports or getting the most marks in class. It’s a pretty stressful life.

    Now I just relax and enjoy what I do and I love it much better. I agree you can be much more creative if you just concentrate doing what you love.

  9. Jenny says:

    All throughout school, from preschool to elementary, to middle and high school, and of course college, the underlying theme is to “do one’s best.” So, sitting here reading your post has me thinking how I’ve been brainwashed into believing that there ever is a best. Even the body that God made for me is not really the best, I’m lactose intolerant, short and aging. Even if I ran ten miles a day, I might be doing the best I can do for achieving a superb state of fitness, but then I this also causes terrible blisters and sore muscles. There is being naturally human, and then there’s attempting the personal best.
    I like to let go and be naturally who I am in this moment. Thanks for the great insight Emilie!

  10. Sherrill Leverich-Fries says:

    Oh, this post is frackin’ brilliance. It’s making my brain hurt, which tells me I need to read it again, and again, and again…so it can keep cracking open this painful paradigm I’ve been trapped in :-)

    Now, where’d I leave the Advil….

  11. Shanna Mann says:

    I firmly believe in the 80-20 rule. In the time that it takes me to even have a shot at “the best” if you could even satisfactorily define it, I can be pretty damn good at several things. And it’s way more fun this way.

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