A lot of my time is geared toward self-improvement. I can trace this back to adolescence, when I started making lists of all the things I wanted to improve about myself and all the ways I would go about doing it. And while it isn’t so much a problem anymore—I’m pretty comfy with who I am—it’s still sometimes shocking to me how much I expect to be “my best self”.
It’s a phrase I hear thrown around a lot—“Are you being your best self right now?” “I wasn’t being my best self”—and while I appreciate the intention behind these remarks, I also find this idea sort of absurd. First of all, how would we even know what our “best self” is? We have no idea what we’re capable of, and to prescribe a conceptual “best self” is actually pretty limiting. Secondly, how on earth could we expect ourselves to be this notional “best self” all the time?
I’m not knocking goals or self-improvement here. I love my lists, my calendars, my monthly intentions. I love striving to read more books and learn more things and get better at dealing with conflict. But this striving becomes toxic if we don’t also appreciate where we are right now. If we can’t love ourselves now, in all our clumsy glory and stupid mistakes, then we’ll never feel we’ve arrived. We’ll always be waiting.
This pressure to be our “best selves” is placed on young females in a unique way. We’re fed the message over and over that it’s not enough to be smart—we must be smart and beautiful. Oh, and interesting and social and healthy and high-achieving and funny but also not trying!!!! (Lolz, am I right? We’re all trying.) In high school, while my guy friends goofed off and enjoyed themselves, I’d be thinking, “How is this situation making me a better person? How am I being productive right now????” Then I’d freak out and need to go for a run. Yeah, I got toned calves, but I could have been having a lot more fun.
This desire to show off our “best selves” is weirdly prevalent this time of year. We come home for the holidays, or see old friends, or get together with family, and we just want to prove how well we’re doing!!!! But the problem with setting up this expectation is that as soon as we “mess up”, we feel we’ve failed. Instead of brushing off an awkward encounter or a wine spill or a wardrobe mishap, we immediately tailspin: I WAS SUPPOSED TO BE BEING MY BEST SELF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! NOW EVERYONE KNOWS I AM NOT MY BEST SELF!
Your actual Best Self, I am realizing, is the self that you are RIGHT NOW. Yeah, you’re not perfect. Sorry. You didn’t finish the juice cleanse or do crunches every day or read 40 books this year or call your grandma on Thanksgiving or follow your budget. Okay. So what? You’re a person, not a project, as Kate so wisely put it. Your radiance, your spirit, your presence and humor and whatever else makes you you—those things are there regardless of how toned your abs are or how many things you crossed off your to-do list.
So if the holidays are getting to you, or if you’re running around trying to be better and better and better, just pause. Look at who you are exactly in this moment, and tell yourself you’re enough. Chasing perfection is not only futile, it’s also a major bummer. True joy, laughter, fun—these are things we can only experience when we’re with ourselves as we are right now. So stop trying to be your Best Self. She doesn’t exist. You do.
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