When did I become obsessed with being the best?
Did it start the first time my parents applauded me for reciting every word of Beauty and the Beast? Was it in 3rd grade, when our class raced to see who could memorize all their multiplication facts first? Is it simply a product of that typical first-born mentality? I don’t know. By the time high school rolled around and the pursuit of scholarships and test scores and college acceptances was in full-swing, my desire to be the best had long-ago solidified.
You know that game “Two Truths and a Lie”? Well, here’s one of my go-to truths: I don’t know how to ride a bike. I never learned. It started out as fear: I fell one afternoon while my dad was trying to teach me to ride without training wheels, and I got scared. So much time went by before my next attempt that I decided I did not want to try again. In 4th grade, a P.E. coach unsuccessfully tried to teach me during a bike safety unit. Evan has tried to teach me once or twice since we’ve been a couple, but no luck there either. The truth is, I gave up a long time ago and decided it was something I will never know how to do. What started as a fear of skinned knees evolved into a conviction that I just wasn’t good at it, and therefore, it wasn’t worth attempting.
And because I’m nothing if not consistent, I’ve avoided anything I “knew” I couldn’t do well: bike riding, dancing, basketball, math, grilling, running, small talk. Why risk failure? Why risk embarrassment? Why look silly or disheveled or incompetent? Somewhere along the line, I began to believe that what I stood to lose in these situations was more significant that anything I might gain.
If I couldn’t be “the best” (or very, very close to it), I stopped trying.
Recently, I listened to Jamie Ivey’s conversation with Jess Connolly on The Happy Hour Podcast. Jess is someone I love to follow on-line because she is honest and forthcoming about her struggles and is great at noticing and celebrating what God’s up to in her life (or so it seems from a distance).
On this particular episode, Jess shared a phrase that was becoming her personal mantra. She said that she repeats it to herself when comparison, competition, and life threaten to overwhelm. The phrase is, “I am taking myself out of the running.”
If she was disappointed with her mothering, she’d think, “I am taking myself out of the running to be the best mom.” In business, “I am taking myself out of the running for most successful company.” On social media, “I am taking myself out of the running for the most likes and comments.”
I immediately knew that I needed this phrase in my life and my heart, and I’ve been saying it ever since.
I sometimes needs to be reminded that I’m not competing against anyone, including myself. I don’t need to be better than you or even a better version of myself. When I take myself out of the running, whatever I manage to eek out on any given day is more than enough. I don’t need to meet a self-imposed, imaginary benchmark. And there’s freedom in that.
I am setting out to do my best on any given day, and I’ve given myself permission to embrace the ebbs and flows in what that looks like. On a day when Ian requires an extra dose of patience, the laundry will need to sit unfolded. When I’m determined to finish a writing or scrapbooking project, Ian may play cars all by himself for a little longer than normal. I am learning to be ok with that give and take.
Over time, I’ve grown comfortable sharing some of my shortcomings with others. I’ll happily share that I’m not very good at managing impulse spending, that I can not wake up early to save my life, and that I almost never mop my floors. But sharing those things out loud didn’t change the fact that internally, each of them still felt like a failure.
I still feel that way sometimes. But most days, I’m learning to remind myself that when it comes to being the most frugal, waking up the earliest, or keeping the cleanest house, I am choosing to never enter the race.
Over time, with lots of self-compassion and help from Jesus, maybe I will actually get better at saving or cleaning. Maybe one day and I’ll even learn to ride a bike without training wheels. But maybe not. For the first time, I’m learning to be ok with the “maybe not.”
I have taken myself out of the running.
“I imagine that God…puts his hand on my head, on my heart, on my savage insecurities, and as he does it, he thinks thankful thoughts about me. In my best moments, when I calm down and listen closely, God says, “I didn’t ask you to become new and improved today. That wasn’t the goal. You were broken down and strange yesterday, and you still are today, and the only one freaked out about it is you.” –Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines