The other day, I dropped my daughter off somewhere and I said the same words I have been saying to her since she was a baby, “Best Manners.” It is a subtle reminder to my children to use their manners when I am not around and truly my children have never let me down. But it got me to thinking. Why do I use the phrase ‘best manners’ rather than the standard ‘good manners’. My parents used ‘good manners’. I don’t remember a show or a movie where I heard that phrase. It is simply something I have always said to my children. I don’t want them to just do good, I want them to do their best.
How many times do we give ourselves an out? How many times do we use words that take away the hope and the belief that someone could be their best instead of hoping they will only be good? Why do we spend time and money being ok with the idea that good is enough? My children never felt any extra pressure from me using the word best instead of good; it is something they have heard their whole lives. They are used to it. I doubt they even think about the fact that their mother expects from them the best not just the good.
But all of us do it. We all take the time to be less than the greatness that we could be. I believe it is as natural to us as breathing. We certainly wish that we were the best. We may even strive occasionally to be that best. We know the power and the greatness in being the best versus settling for just being good but that’s as far as we go.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not talking about perfection. Perfection is unattainable anywhere but in the majesty of nature. Striving for perfection will automatically take you down a hole that you won’t recover from. Even if you are perfect for one second, trying to sustain that perfection, trying to be even more perfect will destroy you. It will force you to lose the love you have in your life which is certainly never perfect. Perfection will force you to lose the confidence that can be found when you accomplish something you didn’t know you could do. Perfection and the constant need for that perfection will destroy all the good that you are doing, blinding you to the very fact that your humanity and your uniqueness is enough to make your worthy of being so much more than just perfect.
What I am talking about here is our constant desire to strive to be the best but often be disappointed that we are simply doing the best that we can. We do it when we get tired. We do it when we are feeling lazy. We do it when we can’t see our own path. We do it when we can’t breathe easily. It is our natural inclination to oftentimes settle for good. And I struggle, even writing this, with the knowledge that sometimes being good is enough. Sometimes not being your best is just as much a part of you as being anything else you could be.
But do we set ourselves up for only being good? I, for one, am one of the laziest people that you will ever meet. There is always something that I need to do, something that I want to do, but I see that book waiting for me and I spend hours reading instead. There is always something that needs to be cleaned, or straightened, or even figured out, but I find myself instead sitting on a couch desperately awaiting for the next episode of my binging marathon. And while their is nothing wrong with reading, watching TV, or being lazy, there is something wrong with that being your own default. I own that about myself; always have and always will.
I am not a person who comes up with great ideas. I am not a person who starves herself in the pursuit of something meaningful to me. I am not a person who sits on pins and needles waiting for something to happen. I am not a go-getter like my father. I am not a plodding worker like my mother. I am not a person who has a great sense of responsibility like my husband. I am a person who sees life as a day to get through. I am a person who sees life as something to simply watch. I am not a person who lives; I am a person who hides.
When I was first diagnosed with a mental illness both of my parents had a really hard time excepting it. It was like those dreams they had when they held me in their arms for the first time went down the drain the exact moment they found out about the disease I never asked for. They gave up on me. A lot of people in my life have given up on me. It has taken me years to understand that this world has preconceived notions of who and what a mentally ill person is capable of, and it took me just as long to realize that I feel into that cliché out of simplicity. While it is extremely difficult to see yourself as capable and able to do anything when the world is watching and weighing your life for you, it is possible to prove all of them wrong. But I didn’t. I caved into the idea that I am not capable of being the best version of myself and instead allowed myself to be occasionally good. I allowed the world to define me, as it tends to define all of us. And now I sit here, looking around and wondering, what if someone – anyone – had taken a second to encourage me to be my best not just good enough? What if one person saw me trying and thought to themselves ‘she can do it’ rather than gnaw on their fingernails waiting for me to fail?
I don’t believe that anyone in my life wants me to fail, I simply think there isn’t anyone in my life who believes I could possibly not fail. Having a mental illness means many things to many people. It can destroy friendships because you aren’t able that night to go out drinking and partying. It can weaken relationships with parents because they don’t see you in any light but the disappointment of their own dreams. It can hurt someone you love because it seems like a never ending Ferris wheel that no one in the house can get off. Believing in me must be very difficult when no one can see me trying. And despite how many times I may scream, “I am trying”, it isn’t something someone, anyone, can actually know for themselves. It’s easier not to expect the best from me because quite frankly, I imagine, it is exhausting to hope for much of anything from me.
Years and years of mental illness and all the conditions, side effects, and other nastiness that comes with any disease can destroy all illusions; even the possibility of dreams. It can make the world see you in only one light. It can make the world be thankful when you are good. It can make the world around you defeat you before you have a chance to even know if you could have done it. Between the world not believing in the best of someone, and our own minds giving us permission not to be best of something, we are pretty much doomed.
I don’t have the answer to how to be best. I don’t even have the answer to how to be good. I don’t have the answer to change the minds of those I love so they can push me to be better than I ever thought that I could be. My world revolves around nothing because ultimately, as horrible as it sounds, I have bought into the idea that I don’t have the ability to be the best at anything. I have allowed myself to believe my husband, my parents, my so-called friends. I have allowed myself to forget that while I am always encouraging my children to try to be the best that they can be, I could try as well. I have forgotten that there are still dreams out there to conquer. I have forgotten that there are things I could do. And despite sitting typing exactly what I know the problem to be, I have no solution. I don’t even know if I could find the best solution because I live in a world where good is all I am supposed to be able to strive for. All I am supposed to be able to achieve. And that is simply sad.
This really speaks to me. All my life I’ve suffered from being a perfectionist. I’d tried so hard to be good in all situations-never breaking or bending a rule. I’m in my 40s now and I fully see the difference between being good and doing your best. What a beautiful gift you are giving your children by using that phrase. Doing our best is all we can do! Hugs to you.