Be the Best vs. Do Your Best

Photo Credit: Brian Cason

Photo Credit: Brian Cason

It's pretty safe to say that many (if not all) have dreamed of being the best at something. While I don't think there's anything particularly wrong with the desire, I do think it's a slippery slope anytime it consumes our whole self. 

In New York, this feeling is especially strong. It's basically in the lifeblood of the city: be excellent or leave. Sure, this might be an overgeneralization, but I've certainly felt it. Lately, it seems to be hitting home more than normal. 

Here's a particularly striking narrative I've heard more than once to describe this in New York life: 

An incredible musician living outside of New York is probably only good enough to be a subway performer inside of New York because everywhere else’s bests are trying to be the best here too.

This can be a haunting blow to identity, confidence, and momentum however true it actually is.

But why?

For me, this has always been a prominent topic of reflection—even before moving to the city. Sure, we live in a world that typically applauds nothing but the best. Because of this, we often allow very subjective measures to be law when determining self-worth.

But why? 

I've found a big root of this to be comparison. We want to be better than someone (or everyone) else in the bunch. It's not always about being the best for the sake of accomplishment; it's being the best in order to say "but I'm better than Sally, Jane, or Robert." (insert names)

I certainly do not want to project my own feelings on you, but I have to believe that others feel (or have felt) something similar. (If so, please feel free to comment below!) 

So what now? 

I could talk more about this, about the what's and the who's, but will that actually help us? While it may help boost our own egos for a time or help us cope with the current concern, I'm not convinced it would help us long term. 

Personally, I grew up only wanting to do things if I were good at them on the first try or if I could improve drastically through minimal practice. This is a hard thing to confess, but I've learned over time how to work through it. Practice and commitment are important, especially when it comes to things for which we have great care. 

I now resolve to strive to "do my best" instead of simply demanding to "be the best." Everything worthwhile requires time and devotion. Sure, we shouldn't let any one earthly thing consume our identity, but we should still commit to excellence for the long haul. 

I won't lie; it still would feel pretty good to finish first or be considered the thought leader on a topic. From now on though, I don't want that to be my sole motivator. My hope is that things would come by practice, feedback, trial and error, and daily improvement. It comes by choosing things that are worthwhile to pursue and honestly enjoying it without expectations or accolades. 

Ultimately, fighting through the temptations of comparison, pride, and identity can only be successful when we commit to Christ and look to Him for guidance, knowing He will direct our steps. Reaching excellence in daily life should be a result of our hearts' outpouring of commitment to eternal love. It's an act of worship to God. 

It's a heart change, one I pray for each of us as we anticipate all that's to come this fall.