Maybe striving to be the "best version" of yourself is not the best thing for us
Updated: Aug 22
It never sat well with me. It always seemed something wasn’t quite right. I’m talking about the phrase “I want to be the best version of myself” or “I’m striving to be the best version of myself”.
My first response to it was: It seems all nice and aspirational and that’s not a bad thing. But what does it actually mean? Was it something along the lines of: there are different versions of me that coexist, for instance, there’s a crap one, a mediocre one and a really really good one and I’m going to strive to be the really really good one all the time from now on rather than be what I am right now because right now I’m not being that? Hopefully that just made sense. Or, could it be: Even if I play with being the “best version”, it doesn’t or won’t last that long and then I’ll just fall back into the crap one or the mediocre one”? Or, perhaps, “I’ve seen the really good version of me when I became that person, at least for a while, but now I’ve stopped being that “best version” and I’m back to being good old ordinary me, plodding along in my daily routines, remembering that “best version” and vowing to get back to being that version.” I just don’t know.
I’ve never told anyone what I thought of it. Until now. I just thought it was the idea of some new self-help influencer that went viral and suddenly everyone was talking about it. But I have no idea how helpful it is, or if it’s helpful at all.
I suppose I just don’t subscribe to it, for me anyway. I don’t think of myself in those terms. I don’t find it helpful or realistic. And I think it would set up internal expectations that could place undue pressure on me to constantly strive to recapture that glimpse of my “best version”. And not fall back into being the less “best version” of me.
None of it resonates. I see it this way: We are who we are in each moment. Well, der— Not this version or that version. We’re just us, as is, warts and all. Much like a never-ending snapshot in time. If we wanted to we could describe what that looks like, its qualities, features and attributes. And that would be us right now. Throughout life, we allow ourselves to respond to whatever is happening in each moment. And we learn things. In fact, we don’t stop learning. Fortunately, it is possible to remember enough so that over the course of our lives the more we do something and feel good about doing it, the more it becomes a habit. Eventually that habit becomes so ingrained in us that it becomes part of us, indistinguishable from the “rest of us”. Most likely, the changes we make won’t be visible daily or even weekly, however, with the benefit of hindsight, we have the opportunity to see them and to acknowledge them, almost like a a-ha or Eureka moment. More than a half-century ago, the Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti wrote that the process of change is not observable by us; we’re just too close to it. However, over time we do change and thanks to our capacity to reflect and remember, we get to see that we have indeed changed. (Those moments of reflection help us remember that we can change because we have done it before!) Sometimes we overcome a difficult situation or an unhelpful attitude or an obsession with someone or something. Or, through daily practice, a good habit becomes an everyday practice that we no longer struggle to practice. It is just us.
That’s why I like the image above. It graphically represents what I feel is the process of change. The evolution of the new you: an hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly process that creeps along, sometimes quickly, mostly slowly because we are notorious for taking our time. But nevertheless we evolve and reflect that change outwardly through our changed behaviour, changed attitudes and practices. There’s no “better version”; there’s just a new you grown out of previous experience.
Besides, if that “best version” of you is now the new you and there’s no retreat to an earlier inferior version of you, then you’ve just evolved. Why call it something else? You’ve just changed and you know it!
So, my message is if you’re constantly striving to be that “better version”, stop and reflect on why you’re doing what you’re doing? If you’re bashing yourself up for not achieving that “version”, being self-critical all the time, just stop. You’re really fine as you are in each moment. It doesn’t mean you stop practising, stop doing things to improve your life. No. You will change; we all do, even if it seems infinitesimal, and it will seem that way if you look back over a day. However, over time, there is a reward, and that is one day you’ll be sitting quietly somewhere and you’ll notice you’ve changed — “oh, I’m not doing that anymore” or “I don’t feel that way anymore” or “I’m not obsessed with that person” or “I’m not codependent” and that change is now part of you. It is you, now.