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 be first to memorize all their multiplication facts? 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 acceptance was in full-swing, my desire to be the best had long-ago solidified.
By this point, most of you know that I am a little bit obsessed with podcasts. For the most part, they are entertaining, informative, and sometimes encouraging. But on a few rare occasions, they have also been completely, totally perspective-shifting. One such podcast episode was episode 47 of The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey. Jamie interviewed Jess Connolly, who is one of my favorite people to follow on-line. 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 often need 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.
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed–or indeed only one.” –Luke 10:41-42
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, Leo may need to play by himself for a little longer than normal. If I’m going to cook dinner and maintain my sanity, Ian may need to watch a show. I am learning to accept this 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, I can not wake up early to save my life, I almost never mop my floors, and I never learned how to ride a bike. But sharing those things out loud didn’t change the fact that internally, each of them still felt like failure.
I still feel that way sometimes, but most days, I 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 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
All month long, I’m sharing 31 ways to fight perfectionism, as part of the Write 31 Days challenge. You can find all my posts in this series here (or by clicking the “31 Days” button at the top of this page).