August 13, 2018

Best

Fru and I have recently adopted the word “best” as a noun. It’s a thing that requires unpacking.

Neither of us would consider our current selves our “best selves.” Perhaps we’ve gotten a bit comfortable, or a bit soft; perhaps we’ve aged or just relied on momentum rather than maintaining intent. At any rate, we know that there’s room for progress.

Recognizing room for growth and establishing a path for our improvement is an internal task, yet very little of the word “best” is inward-facing. Being the best on the team, the best of class, the best in the world—all of this channels inner growth outward and into external domination. While few speak of this, many sense it—which is why it is common to counteract the aggressive nature of “the best” with an inward-facing counterbalance: asking (or at least suggesting) that one should do their best.

What is your best and what is my best are two different things. And, unfortunately, one may use that idiosyncrasy to permit or even defend current behavior. Who of us has not responded with, “I’m doing my best!” when, in truth, we knew that our best wasn’t actually the space we were working from and that the space we were working from wouldn’t yield an optimal result?

So these are our two conundrums: doing “one’s best” may result in not doing one’s best, and that doing one’s best—even when actually achieved—may not have an external reward.

When thinking of the latter I can’t help but think of Evgenia Medvedeva. I am not knowledgeable in ice skating, but after watching her performance at the 2018 Winter Olympics I felt along with others that she gave her very best in that moment, reaching such an expressive athletic level that she surely should have earned more reward than that which was received.

Still, we must pursue best, and I think athletes—and not just the best ones like Medvedeva—best exemplify this. To be good at a sport is one thing; to truly master a sport is another. Achieving mastery requires bringing your best consistently—consistently enough that you can surpass it. It requires a lot of failure and even more study, training, practice. At some point that indefatigable tenacity and pursuit of the mastery permeates other areas of their life. Being surrounded by the best becomes a support structure for maintaining that best.

It is this resource-intensive, metastasis-like quality which leaves many of us afraid to strive for the best. Can I strive for best in one area of my life and accept mediocrity in others? Do I have enough confidence in self to persist through failure and loss? Can I do this without seeming petulant or entitled or obnoxious? Am I even pursuing the right thing, or am I wasting time and energy in a delusion? It’s easier to accept the role we’re given than to face the criticism of crafting your reality.

For me, this thought process stemmed from watching Cristiano Ronaldo play in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. I like Ronaldo (largely because I am drawn to people whose success causes consternation in others) and I felt he performed really well in the tournament, adding records to an already illustrious career. Perhaps it was the position he plays for his national team versus the one he played for Real Madrid, but the 32-year old’s efforts seemed more mature and internally focused than in the past. More team focused, less animated, but with an unmistakable intensity that seemed ready to bend the world to his will. My (admitted) inferences made me wonder whether, after all these years of silencing critics and surpassing expectations, Ronaldo had nothing left but to ask himself, “is there any area of my life that is not the best it can be?”

Is there any part of my life that isn’t short of best?

So we’re speaking best, conjuring through conversation a better understanding between where we are and what best could mean. We’re allowing ourselves to want, to care, to act. And if we’re fortunate, we’ll be able to look at something—even one thing—in our lives and know that it could be no better.