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Freedom Is Knowing We Don’t Need to Be the Best

Happy Woman

“Whenever I climb I am followed by a dog called ‘Ego.’” ~Frierich Nietzsche

At a young age, the bar for the rest of my life was set very high. I was a natural at anything I tried to do, and I was lucky enough to have my friends and family support me in just about every venture, so I became incredibly confident in my abilities and hopeful that life would always be easy and painless.

Eventually, I solidified the expectation for myself to always be number one because that is what my identity was based upon.

To give you a couple examples of my pre-adolescent stretch of glory: I was an all star swimmer (better than even the boys on my swim team); no one dared challenge me in verbal warfare due to my incredibly intellectual argumentative skills; I was “popular” for a pre-teen and had close friends; and I was very good at school.

Then I was humbled by reality.

I transferred from my safe 100-student private school to a public school of over 400 students in sixth grade, and my world was literally flipped upside down.

I lost my identity in a sea of kids who went toe to toe with my vivacious personality, and my ego took a big hit.

I was not the best at anything anymore, so who I was and my contribution to the world, in my young mind, was compromised, because those things that I attached my value to as a human being were challenged.

This identity (ego) I refused to let go of ate me up inside, as I internalized it to mean that I was somehow not valuable as a person. My intrinsic value was somehow diminished because I was not the best at everything anymore.

And that is where my mind failed me, because that pattern of thinking is not true. Problems arise when we believe our value comes from our accomplishments and achievements.

The world makes it very hard to avoid attaching our value to our success because success is defined, measured, and standardized in many cultures by what we do, who we do it for, what we have (materialistic things and money), and how far we get.

What I came to realize was that these things can’t even begin to explain the person you are on the inside. What matters is your intention, the worth and depth of your relationships, and your values. These qualities make you who you are.

Let me back up a bit. Before I came to this conclusion, I was hurting badly for a number of years. Not only did my life get considerably harder after entering the sixth grade, but I also stopped asking for help and maintaining the close relationships I had made when I was at my “peak,” because I felt unworthy.

To protect my precious ego, I started blaming and judging everyone to keep them at a distance so they wouldn’t see my self-perceived faults. And that, my friends, is the ugly nature of the ego. Call it competitive, stubborn, or hardheaded—it is an insatiable monster that will eat you up inside if you let it.

I would like to say that I grew up and had an awakening of sorts, but to tell you the truth, I am still very much in the process of accepting and loving the true me. Here are some tips on how I manage the monster that you may want to try:

Identify any beliefs regarding achievement and access that cause you to suffer.

Can you let these go? Why or why not? Oftentimes, we hold on to beliefs for our survival and comfort even when they make us unhappy. We also hold onto beliefs because we are afraid to discover our true selves, which would mean big changes for everything around us.

Ask yourself what you genuinely value in others that has nothing to do with success, appearance, or other “worldly” objects.

Can you see these qualities in yourself? What would it feel like to acknowledge, grow, and love these values/qualities in yourself? Think of qualities in others that make you feel safe, respected, and cared for. Usually the good qualities we see in others are direct reflections of what we do not see in ourselves but possess deep down.

Honestly ask yourself what you need, and seek help.

Oftentimes, people like me try to prove they have it all together but end up overwhelmed because they wind up juggling too many balls, saying, “No, it’s okay, I got it.”

I realized I stopped asking for help because I needed to maintain the illusion (primarily for myself) that I knew everything so I wouldn’t feel incompetent.

Being vulnerable enough to admit you can’t do everything and need help actually brings people closer to you because it opens the door for the most basic of human needs—empathy, validation, and most importantly, the need to feel like you are not alone in your experiences.

Be gentle and patient with yourself. Allow yourself some room for error and be humble enough to seek other perspectives to issues that arise. It can be extremely freeing to learn that you do not, in fact, have all the answers.

It is a process to let go of the unrelenting demands created by past experiences and accomplishments. Life has a funny way of showing what you need to relinquish in order to be at peace and congruent with your inner values.

Be aware of what causes you to suffer on a regular basis and try to make a habit of acknowledging your core inner qualities that give your life meaning and value. When you start living in congruence with the values and truths you discover inside yourself, everything else naturally falls into place.

“Perhaps middle-age is, or should be, a period of shedding shells; the shell of ambition, the shell of material accumulations and possessions, the shell of the ego.” ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh

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About Tina Bell

Tina is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern for foster youth who specializes in humanistic interventions to foster change and growth. Once licensed, she hopes to open a private practice, incorporating yoga, meditation, mindfulness and animal assisted therapeutic techniques to offer a full range of services that people can use to help lead them back to their truths so they can rediscover the meaning and purpose in their lives.

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  • Ally

    This is a very encouraging post and exactly the one I needed at the moment! I’m coming towards the end of my undergraduate degree and will be graduating this summer. I’ve always been top of the class throughout my education, and got top grades at A level (qualifications we receive in England usually at the age of 18). As I approach my final term, however, I have been starting to panic about the fact that I am hugely unlikely to get the top grade at this point (a 1st). I have been experiencing a flurry of thoughts: what will others think of me? Will I lose my central characteristic of being ‘smart’, and therefore will my entire identity change? Will my family feel let down? I have realised that these questions are irrational, unhelpful, and only serve to make me miserable. For starters, I’ve had a rough time at university, and am thankful to have made it out alive at all! But more importantly, as you say, being the best and getting the top grade just isn’t really important. As you have written, relationships with others are key, as well as one’s own happiness, feeling of self-worth and values. No-one will think any less of me as a person if I get a 2.1, so I shouldn’t either! The important thing is that I stick to the happy principles of loving others, making others happy, loving features of myself that I admire, and sticking to my central values of acceptance and living in the moment. Thank you for this article, it has reminded me of what’s important in life! 🙂