It’s that time of year when we’re all thinking about newness and change, and becoming our best selves. When did that become such an obligation? Who laid down the rule that we had to be the best version of who we might be? And what does this word ‘best’ mean in this context anyway? Show me the contract. Show me where I signed up for this. Because this year, I am probably going to default.
This year I am abandoning any requirement to improve and achieve.
This year I am not going to be what anyone else wants or needs me to be.
I have decided to take this year to be selfish, to work on my outstanding issues (hey, we all have the things we want to change!) and to focus on my own vision for this next chapter of my life. The thing is: that vision is not framed around becoming my best self.
I am me and frankly, for at least this one year, I have decided that I am good enough.
Could I be a better version of me? Oh yes! In so many ways!
Only, I’ve decided instead that I would rather be a happier version of me, a more curious version, a more excited trying-stuff-and-not-necessarily-enjoying-it-or-being-any-good-at-it version, a know-what?-not-doing-that-ever-again version.
The first bit is the important bit. It’s not about being better. It’s about being happier.
In his weekly newsletter, the author James Clear posed these questions: Imagine all your responsibilities and obligations vanish overnight. What would you miss doing? What would you choose to add back to your life?
I am in the very fortunate position of having very few responsibilities and obligations, so I don’t need as much imagination as you might for this exercise (but I recommend giving it a try anyway).
In fact, I can answer the first question without having to even think about it. There is nothing I miss doing. I miss a few of the people from my past life – not so very many of them if I’m honest – but there is nothing I miss doing. I don’t miss the work. I don’t miss the early mornings and late nights and the sleepless nights. I don’t miss the rules and regulations and KPIs and reports and time-wasting make-work crap that got in the way of getting on with the job. I don’t miss having to be a certain version of myself, or even different versions of myself depending on who I was with and what was expected of me. I don’t miss the stress and the pressure. I don’t even miss the sense of achievement I used to have when something went really well.
One reason for this might be that my responsibilities and obligations did not vanish overnight. It took a couple of years, and then a couple more before I fully realised the extent of it. “Realised” in both senses of that word: understood and made-real.
The second question then becomes redundant. Because I don’t miss any of it, there is nothing that I would choose to “add back”. Instead, it seems to have become an ongoing process of stripping back, emptying, letting go, creating space and then seeing what flows into it.
That flow has been new interests, the opportunities to develop dormant skills, expand limited
knowledge. I know that sounds like self-improvement, but really it’s just been about doing what I want to do. If I am learning stuff – and that is an “if”; a lot of it flows out as quickly as it flows in – then I am doing so for the fun of it, because I’m interested and intrigued and I still get a kick out of light-bulb moments.
That flow has also brought new connections, more people, more ideas that I can play with or reject. I get to dabble. I love a good dabble. One of the writerly folk in my circle talked about being a surface feeder, a lovely expression to mean that he nibbles at the easily accessible bits of wisdom, knowledge and insight, without troubling himself to dive deep. Me too.
I’m not suggesting this is the way for everyone. We need the deep-divers too, the folk who follow their passions to the very depths and outermost edges of their fields of enquiry or study or art or
craft or work.
I do feel, however, that the real deep-divers are doing just that: following their passion. They are also doing it for the fun, for the quest or the thirst, rather than out of any sense of wanting to be their ‘best self’.
As we also know, some of the ‘best’ artists in many fields, were not very nice people. So what do we mean by ‘best self’? Who gets to judge this, and against what parameters?
Another prompt landed in my inbox this week, this time from Linda Parkinson-Hardman, who
asked us to think about new beginnings in the most literal sense, in the sense of birth, of giving life to something. It struck me that the one thing we all have the opportunity to ‘give birth’ to, to ‘bring to life’, is our own lives. We are brought into the world and nurtured by others, but there comes a point
where the life-that-we-live is one of our own choosing, our own design, our own creation, our own re-birthing.
And the miracle is that we can choose to re-birth our life or our ‘self’ whenever we want. It doesn’t need a crisis of confidence. It doesn’t need a career collapse. It doesn’t need a life-threatening illness, or a divorce, or the loss of a loved one. It doesn’t need a sudden spiritual awakening or Road-to-Damascus moment. It doesn’t even need a light-bulb moment. It simply needs the desire to do so.
Simply. Let me repeat myself from other places: simple is not the same as easy.
Think about birth for a moment. A few things we know about the miracle of the creation of a new life are that it takes time, and energy, and it is fraught with possible danger and potential failure.
So when we decide to create a ‘new life’ for ourselves, whatever that means, regardless of how marginally or amazingly different from the old one we desire to make it, we need to start from that fundamental point of knowing that there are no magic wands. It will take time and effort and investment. How much of each of those is uncertain. It may involve heartbreak and failure along the way.
The new life we choose to birth just might well arrive in a whoosh of joyful moments one upon another. I am fond of saying that simple is not the same as easy…but sometimes the two do coincide! Sometimes it is easy.
So why not start from the reality-check, and make the next step to say: yep, got that, but let’s see what happens if I ignore it. I did not endear myself to my former managers when they heard me tell my team "Right, you know what your targets are…I suggest you now ignore them and get on with doing the job". Hidden in that is a fundamental belief that trying to be the best is not good for us: not in business, not in life.
Being “driven” is likely to get you over the finishing line first, but you’ll will have missed so much along the way, and the finishing line in life is maybe not one any of us want to be rushing towards.
So here we are, a few days or a couple of weeks into the new year, depending on when you
mark it, and it is as good a time as any to take a moment and think about what you want to give birth to in the months or years to come. What do you want to create? What do you want to give life to?
Or maybe your creation already exists and you simply want to continue to nurture it and help it shine a little brighter. Don’t let me or anyone else suggest that you need newness. What you already have might be wonderful enough.
If it is, I say: Well done, you! I’m right behind you… on the road to becoming my happiest self. I reckon I may have missed the turn-off of for Best Self, back down the road aways, but this winding path looks a lot more interesting than that highway.
I’m ripping up the “Best Self” contract into the tiniest pieces and scattering it to the wind. This year, I’m playing by my own rules, and they are based on words like Happy, Rooted, Gratitude, Calm, Simplicity, Earth, Wood, Water.
And do you know what? I’m excited by that.