While waiting for my manicure to dry at the nail salon this afternoon, my eyes fixed on a young girl having her nails done across from me. She looked to be about 13 years old and wore a bright pink shirt that said, “The Best Don’t Rest.” As I read that, I felt sadness and anger rise up in me. I wanted to call her over, sit her down and tell her how quickly that belief ( and others like it) will lead her down a dangerous path – the path of perfectionism, anxiety and overwhelm (a path I’m not unfamiliar with). I wanted to warn her that beliefs like that one will send her on the fast track to burnout, despite the fact that they’re the very messages we’re bombarded with each and every day. I wanted to ask her, “Do you know how many people in our culture suffer from depression and anxiety?!” But she wouldn’t know. Not yet.
I didn’t say a word to her. I knew that she wouldn’t get it. Especially coming from a stranger in the nail salon. I have a 14 year old at home, so I knew exactly how that conversation would go down…lots of eye rolling, sighing and stories, afterwards, about the lunatic she met at the nail salon. No, she wouldn’t understand the message. Not yet.
As I sat there, thinking about all this, it occurred to me that this idea of “the best” is where all of the problems start. The very notion that there is a “best” at anything, let alone the idea that we should all strive to achieve that distinction, is both ridiculous and extremely serious. How many of us have run ourselves ragged to reach this unattainable ideal, to be the “best” at something? Or everything? It infiltrates our lives in big and little ways all the time and we rarely stop to even consider, who is the judge in this absurd contest??
Think about the minefield of “best” beliefs that most of us navigate on a daily basis:
- The best moms have the patience of a saint (and volunteer at all of the school fundraisers).
- The best employees are dedicated enough to sacrifice leisure time, mealtime, and family time (along with most of their creative energy) for the sake of getting the job done.
- The best wives put the needs of their husbands and families above their own.
- The best friends set no boundaries and will give endlessly, when needed.
- The best “ladies” don’t start a fight by speaking their minds or sharing their true opinions.
- Nor are they too demanding.
- The best women are the smartest, strongest, kindest, skinniest, wealthiest, most attractive, most fit, popular, selfless, charismatic and powerful ones. Oh and they are happy. All the time. (Why wouldn’t they be??)
Do any of these beliefs sound familiar?
On an intellectual level, most of us recognize the silliness of them, but on a subconscious level, they’ve got most women by the short hairs.
After working for years to undo this kind of conditioning in myself, the very last thing I want is to pass it on to my daughter. To teach our children that, in order to do this impossible thing – to become “the best” – they must not rest is not only unhealthy; it’s downright injurious.
Instead, how about teaching our children the concept of enough? That they are enough. That there is enough talent and success for everyone. That it is enough to simply put forth an honest effort and to challenge ourselves when we’re inspired to; it will sometimes bring excellence, sometimes adequacy and sometimes failure, but it will always bring integrity and growth. And while we’re at it, let’s teach them that we all need rest, in order to function in a healthy way. That if they don’t honor their needs, nobody else will.
It’s high time we rewrite the above list of beliefs:
- I am enough.
- I don’t need to compete with or prove myself to anybody.
- I will treat myself and others with understanding and compassion.
- I will honor my own needs.
- I will create healthy boundaries.
- I will do good work in the world.
- I will speak my truth, with sensitivity.
- When I fall short, I will treat myself with patience and forgiveness. And that is enough.
With so much love,