Becoming one’s “best self.” Appealing notion, isn’t it?
But I’m ambivalent on this topic. Maybe we should scuttle the concept. Not only is it elusive, but isn’t it a potential catch-22, an excuse for not achieving, a dark hole women tumble into as we find ourselves feeling not quite good enough?
Try this on for size. Maybe we shouldn’t be striving for the “best self.” What if we could accept a “good self” instead, focusing on being good enough – damn good in fact – good, in all its variations.
Here’s my thinking. I was browsing a variety of relationship articles, and I wasn’t surprised to see the prevailing wisdom offer prescriptions to become our “best selves.” Furthermore, the experts instruct, if the relationship is healthy then our partner will encourage us to become our “best self.”
So what if we imagine ourselves to be stage actors, able to take up voice lessons and tap dance at age 40, two-stepping our way from Peoria to Broadway? What if we imagine ourselves winning a Pulitzer for photojournalism, and we’ve never made it beyond the Neighborhood Newspaper pics of the local boy scout troop?
Relationship “Best Self”
If a partner discourages us (gently) from pursuing a dream, is that preventing us from being a “best self” or reflecting a level of tender acceptance for who and where we are?
If a partner discourages us from pursuing a viable ambition whatever it may be, do we accept his word and his perspective before fully inhabiting our own?
Do we put relationship interests first? Family interests first? Our partner’s view of who we are and what we’re capable of before our own – and our own interests?
Clearly, each scenario is different and the only right answer (if such a thing ever exists) is “it depends.” We want our relationships to work. Women are culturally conditioned (and some might say hard-wired) to put family, children especially, before everything else. Often, we have no choice. And yes, certainly, that’s true of men as well.
Again, I’m torn on this subject. I, too, put my children first and felt compelled to do so as a single mother. Did I unconsciously defer a “good self” or years who could have been in a good relationship? Or was I wise to focus on my kids and also myself, in my own way?
Women and Self-Sabotage
What if your ambitions are less far-fetched than Broadway or that Pulitzer, but you self-sabotage – perhaps unknowingly? What if you look at your family and think “they need me more” or you give in to the fatigue at the end of the day and tell yourself you’ll go that extra mile (for yourself) tomorrow? What if you do this in your career – over and over again?
In an interesting article on Forbes, Dr. Peggy Drexler addresses issues of both confidence and ambition, noting that young women are aware of their competence, and brimming with confidence – at least initially. While structural and personal bias remain very real in the workplace, there may be more at issue here: women back off from loftier goals over time.
In “Women Need More Than Confidence To Succeed, They Need Ambition” Dr. Drexler writes:
… younger female employees entering the workforce are more likely to perceive themselves as equal to, or better than, men…
… although more women are working outside the home… women still carry out more of the domestic work, according to a report by Pew Research Center. What’s more, there is an unconscious bias that remains prevalent in many workplaces.After all, women continue to receive less pay for equal work than their male colleagues…
But what if the biggest obstacle is the one that remains in women’s minds?
“If Only” I Were Married, Beautiful, Thin…
Returning to the more frequent (pop culture) prescriptions on one’s “best self,” aren’t we usually caught up in the appearance side of the equation, not to mention our marital status as a defining reflection of who we are – and our social status?
If only I were in a relationship (or married)…
If only I were thinner…
If only I had bigger (or smaller) boobs (or hips or thighs)…
And naturally, “if only I were younger” is on the list as we head off to the dermatologist (or the plastic surgeon)… But the age issue may extend beyond appearance as well as relationship, and deter us from continuing to set the bar high in terms of business, creative output, community service, and earnings.
This one is particularly challenging: If only I could trust again. And that includes trusting our own judgment.
So what about “if only I were better informed / more educated?” What about “if only I would take a chance, including risking failure?” How many of us pose those hypotheticals and then do something about them, which could be far more helpful in the long run?
How to Find Your “Best Self”
Do we really want to fall into the “Best Self” Catch-22? Believing that the level of accomplishment we set as ideal, whatever its domain, is so far out of reach that we can’t actually go for it?
Isn’t finding your best self about knowing yourself and accepting good days and bad days, energetic days and tired days, but recognizing the substance and strength in who you are?
I honestly don’t know what (or who) my best self is, which doesn’t mean I don’t know who I am. On the contrary. Though once I deferred far too much to “someday” – and the longer I deferred the more I doubted myself – I now see that attitude as nonsense.
I will never be prettier or thinner or smarter or younger than I am today because here is where I am today. This “me” is what I have to work with. This physical me. This intellectual me. This financial me. This emotional me. This competent me. I’m “good” with good, and yes – working toward “better” – but unwilling to dwell in a vision of perfect circumstances in which I suddenly, spectacularly achieve all my dreams.
Does this require that I cast away my ambitions for a better, stronger, healthier, wiser, more accomplished future? Am I taking myself out of the running, talking myself out of the boldest possible vision of what I want?
Not at all. But I stay in the running for my ambitions by focusing on what I can do today, each day, to build that tomorrow. At the very least, not to add to the obstructions that any of us might encounter. And if, temporarily, I lose my belief, I know I won’t give up. I refuse to self-sabotage any longer.
What about you?
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