~ Steve Prefontaine
I remember being told as a child that all that was expected of me was that I do my best. I iwasn’t supposed to come first in class, to be better than anyone else, to win prizes or outscore anyone. All that was asked of me was that I do my best. It was a message that didn’t make much sense to me at the time. How would anyone know if you had done your best? How do you know what your best is?
In hindsight I realize that it was a message to always put out your best effort. It was also supposed to be a message of support, that even if you weren’t the brightest, the smartest or the best, it was the effort that would be recognized. But the message also carried a reminder that was said so eloquently in the talking song we loved back in the 70’s, that still packs a powerful punch today: “If you compare yourself to others, you will become vain and bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself” (Max Ehrmann, in Desiderata).
My parents did a good job of requiring humility of us. If we were blessed with gifts of intelligence and did well in school, then we were expected to put our gifts to use. Success was to be celebrated, but not dwelled upon nor rewarded. We had the parable of the talents to remind us that we had a responsibility to use and improve whatever gifts we were given.
When you are in school you have tests and grades to measure success. But what happens in the real world? How do you know if you are doing your best? How do you know what you are capable of? Two journalists have written a book, The Confidence Code, which addresses the fact that females have a problem with confidence. They cite interesting statistics, which tell a sad story. Women consistently underestimate their own abilities while men just as consistently overestimate their own. Men will apply for a job that they do not have the qualifications for, while women won’t even apply if they don’t feel they are 100% qualified. And the authors also say that there are genetic components to this, along with the environmental factors like upbringing and societal expectations.
There are other studies that show that somewhere along the way, girls are told not to compete with boys, not to be pushy or assertive, not to believe in themselves. So many times we hear about women who are punished for being too bossy (I won’t use the other ‘b’ word!), even when they are competing in a man’s world. Parents, how have you done with your daughters? Have you celebrated their self-confidence, encouraged them to develop their talents, to achieve their highest success? And how about your granddaughters?
In a competitive world you have to learn a new balance in the art of selling yourself. You learn that to get ahead you have to fill your resume with your accomplishments, demonstrating your abilities and advertising your strengths. To those who, like me, were brought up to downplay strengths, to be quietly grateful and coy, it goes against the grain. But trust me, there are others with far less talents who know how to market themselves, and they will get that prize position you had your eye on!
In the classroom I have seen another aspect of this problem. I have seen students who never put out their best effort because they are scared that if they do so and fail, it says something about their abilities. They try to cruise through on smarts and winning ways, but sooner or later their grades falter. And you know they have the ability but were not even trying. Is there something that you could be doing, but you are scared to even try it in case you fail? Paulo Coehlo said “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
But aside from school or the workplace, are you putting out your best effort at life? Are you the best person you can be at being a mother, a friend, a brother, a human being? Do you demand the best of yourself, and do you notice when you are less than your best? Each week as I put down my thoughts and send them out into the world, I also send them to my co-workers. And let me tell you, even if I don’t remember, they will remind me if I am failing to follow my own advice!
Giving advice is much like giving an injection; it is the one who receives it who feels the sting! So from this end of the keyboard it may appear that I have the answers, but the proof is in the implementation. We are all experts in the lives of others, what they can do to be better people, how they should behave, who they should be with. Sometimes we have to take a deep breath and look hard in the mirror and see the areas in our own lives which need cleaning up.
So this week I encourage you (and me) to think about whether you are hiding your talents under a bushel. Are you being the best that you can be? Are you living your best life, shining your brightest light, living up to the expectations of your full potential? And if not, what is holding you back? What is making you feel that you should be shy or reticent about letting your best abilities come to the fore? You will never know what you are capable of if you don’t try. And remember “…in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul…it is still a beautiful world”
Have a wonderful weekend Family! I know I have you singing the chorus, I hope it reminds you to shine your light on others today!