“The goal is not to be better than the other man, but your previous self,” the Dalai Lama. Since I was a child, I’ve compared myself to other people. Part of that is human nature. We see what other people do and we mirror that behavior to make it work and fit in. Our society loses the meaning of that type of comparison when we start to rank each other by who can do it better. We praise those who appear to succeed by having more or doing more. For me it started off simply with grades and doing better than my classmates at school. Then it evolved in choosing college and how well I did on tests. Then it evolved into work and who I could outperform at my jobs and how quickly I could learn new skills and attain them. We do things to stand out—by doing the same but better. And we quickly lose ourselves in that process.
It wasn’t until I saw how dysfunctional my friendships and other relationships were that I really began to question that behavior. Why was I trying to be better than people I loved? Why was I trying to prove I could do better than the people who supported me? Because I was looking for some assigned value of worth by those witnessing my ability. I wanted to be better and the best at everything I did. Quite frankly, I wanted to prove I could do it all and that I wouldn’t need anyone. Being smaller and physically weaker in many ways, I needed to show the world that I was capable and that, even though I was short, I had power.
All that did was leave me with the medals and no trace of friends who had once supported my efforts. While I felt an initial surge of pride that I could be successful, I felt empty in the end. When you try to prove you’re better than everyone without bringing any real support yourself, you’re left alone. And it was lonely. It was unfulfilling because I would only push myself far enough to get ahead of the next person, leaving them behind. I never followed through on anything as long as I could say I did it better than someone. Ironically, I never felt better than anyone. It was a hollow sort of pride in feeble accomplishments.
It wasn’t until I started looking at the life around me, filled with accolades from those I thought I needed, but empty of any real connection that I saw how disconnected I was from myself. Everything I did was for external validation and not the expression of who I really was. Quite frankly I saw what a jerk I was and I knew the destruction of many valuable relationships was the result of my own actions, nothing more. It wasn’t jealousy from other people—they were annoyed with someone trying to one up them. How can you relate to someone always trying to surpass you? You can’t. I couldn’t even relate to myself anymore.
Becoming the best version of ourselves means letting go of the need to win and learning to develop what we already have inside of us. It means honing what we are naturally called to do and using that to serve others. It isn’t about winning or being greater, it is about being great with what we do. The truth is, there will always be someone better, stronger, faster, smarter, more beautiful than we are and if we measure ourselves by that hollow benchmark, we will spend our lives proving that we can achieve their goals before our own. I had no clue who I was.
I had to let go of the idea that I needed to find worth outside of myself. Then I needed to sit with myself and really discover who I was/am. Discover my abilities and focus on what that meant to other people. I learned that I have an adept ear and a good eye to help people clear the bullshit they tell themselves in order to navigate to the next level. I no longer wanted to show people I could do what they wanted to do, I wanted to help them do what they wanted to do. I no longer wanted to prove I was capable, I wanted to show people they were capable as well.
Using my gift to unravel the stories people tell themselves is my calling. Breaking patterns and learning to trust that we will be taken care of is my purpose. Giving people the tools to define themselves and learning how to use them to cultivate their skills is my passion. The one good thing about being a former arrogant know-it-all is that I proved to myself that anything can be done with focus, determination, clarity, and hard work. Truly. If you believe you can do it, you can. Sometimes it’s messy getting there, but letting go of the idea that you need to be better than someone else drops the weight and takes you exactly to the height you need to be. So look at yourself and ask what you can do better, not to be number one, but to make everyone their own number one. Watch the world flourish when we all share our gifts.