There’s More to Life than being “The Best”

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Reader’s Question

It seems no matter what I do I can never be the best. I just always feel inferior, worthless, and pathetic, but why? I know that even if I am second that means that I beat 99% of the people. But no matter how much I tell myself that, I still feel like a failure.

I’ve tried everything I can think of to improve on this: books, counselors, self-help programs, but I never feel any better about myself. I’ve also tried just making myself better by sticking to a rigid schedule designed to optimize my time and ability. I’ve basically tried to make myself better using everything from negative reinforcement to simply focusing on one thing. Yet in the end I still find myself in second place, sad, unaccomplished, and unable to look at myself. What do I do from here? FYI, any help costing more than this email is not an option for us.

I blame my parents for my not being the best. I just know that if they had put pressure on me, or given me a slap on the face when I screwed up, that I would be less inclined to be a failure. I know this is reassigning blame and that I should feel blessed to have such laid-back parents, but it hasn’t helped me at all in life! I would gladly trade stress at home and familial tension for perpetual failure. So my question is this, did the kids with strict parents have a one-up on me all along? Can I retrain this into my brain, or have I been doomed from the start?

My family seems on edge all the time; we often don’t even see each other, when we can avoid it. For example, every time my siblings and I must clean the kitchen, our house turns into the “ninth circle”. We fight over who does what, who hasn’t done what, who called who what. My dad says that when I am gone things get peaceful. This disturbs me greatly. I love my siblings more than life itself, and can’t understand what I am doing wrong. I try to compromise, I give in to them way more often then I should, I stop fights, and I try to be helpful, so why is everyone on edge? Would they be better off if I just left? Are we all the problem, or is it just me?

I am an excellent speaker and great with words, but the problem is that I don’t talk to other people my age. Whenever I get put in a situation to have a conversation, I end up looking down or drifting to the outside edge of the conversation. Is this something I can fix? I can’t help but feel that if I don’t fix this soon I will have a pretty lonely and miserable life. Should I just give up?

Psychologist’s Reply

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It seems like you live in a very black and white world in which if you’re not the best, you’re nothing. That simply isn’t the case and I have to wonder where you got that idea. It’s a very unrealistic expectation because, let’s be honest, the vast majority of people will never be the best. There will always be someone who is better than we are just like there will always be someone who is worse. So why tear yourself into pieces trying to do something that cannot be done, especially when it’s so unnecessary? My philosophy is that everyone should strive to be ‘good enough.’ Good Enough doesn’t mean we don’t try to do our best; it’s more that the standards of success are reasonable. It’s also about learning that whatever we can achieve is acceptable.

Which leads me to my next point: what is so great about being the best anyway? I’m guessing that somewhere along the line you learned that in order to be a worthy human being, you need to be the best. Again, this isn’t true. If it were, then 99.9% of us would be in trouble. You are a worthy human being and people will like you regardless of whether you are the best. In fact, people who are the best often have a hard time connecting with others; for a variety of reasons, being the best can be lonely. So, I think you need to figure out what need in you being the best would fill, and start there. If you can realize that the need can be met in other ways, giving up the drive to be the best will be easier.

Perhaps you should change your definition of success. In your effort to be the best, you may be cutting yourself off from the things that truly matter in life, and that is relationships. You’re already struggling with talking with people your own age and being with your family, so it could be time to put your energy there. One really great aspect of relationships is that there is no best; they’re not about that. Instead, relationships are about connecting and enjoying the time spent together. In short, relationships aren’t about doing; they are about being. It could be that you are so concerned about who is doing what, and looking good, that you miss out on listening to others, interacting with them collaboratively, and just enjoying yourself. Reading some books on conversation and relational skills could be helpful.

Whenever you deal with relationships, everyone has a role to play. So yes, everyone is to blame for the problems in your family. However, it could be that your interactions with your siblings are filled with so much tension and/or competition that it causes them to respond unpleasantly. That could be what your dad was trying to say. Instead of trying to “just leave” (this is another example of black and white thinking), why not ask your parents and siblings what you can do to improve your relationships with them? Instead of blaming them for what they have or have not done, figure out how you can enjoy being around them. Some of this may include halting the search for “the best,” and instead just connecting around your daily activities, thoughts and fun times. Once you take all that pressure off yourself, you may be relieved enough to start enjoying life.

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