When I was but a wee teen, I had the privilege of hearing the first most influential speaker of my life. It was at a church retreat, and the speaker went by ‘Deacon Don’. Although he was of my mom’s generation, and we teens were of the mentality that our parents knew nothing, most of us were captivated by his talk. His story was both universally appealing and personal, and his message resonated with us, not necessarily because we had been raised in as rigid of an environment as he, but because we had all felt the pressures of being human and living the tedious and sometimes tumultuous process of developing into young adults.
While I don’t recall the exact stories he told, the message lives within me to this day. As a child growing up, his father challenged him in every aspect, always responding to Don’s successes by saying ‘Good, better, best, never let it rest. Make the good better and the better best.’. If he brought home a report card with all A’s and one B, his father would challenge him to bring up that B. When he won a race in track, it would be the same. How could he improve upon winning an entire race? By achieving a faster race time, the next go around of course.
I remember thinking, ‘Geez, how much better can he get Mr. Dad? He won the race, he achieved perfect scores, what do you want from him?’. As a parent, I still agree that this level of expectation and pressure is overkill. However, as an adult, I must say that I finally understand the true point of this. On an individual level, if we’re always striving to be better than the self we were yesterday, we’re always going to be moving in the right direction. How can one truly digress if we’re so focused on progress? This isn’t to say we won’t have failures, pitfalls, and straight-up rock bottoms. But if we’re focused on improvement, we won’t find ourselves trapped there at rock bottom, because we always have our old selves as a shadow competitor. Therefore, we always have something to accomplish – a purpose, a goal, a record, something tangible and close in memory to better and a reason to make the best of ourselves.
In this journey called life, we will always encounter someone who is better, stronger, faster, wiser, funnier, ‘better’ than we are. If we have that innate competitive spirit, those are the people that can make us or break us, if we choose to focus on our competition. By focusing on outside competition, however, we lose sight of the internal workings of our own psyche and accountability is lost. Blame is always directed at someone outside of ourselves. In truth, our harshest competition lies within. We have demons. Each and every one of us.
For me, this demon takes physical form. I have never been in battle with myself on a mental, emotional, or spiritual level. However, my physical form at 5′ with a muscular ‘stout’ build, has always been my arch enemy. No matter how much I try and become less ‘stout’, no matter how many miles I run, no matter how many times I kick the old rugged bag or lift weights, it’s never enough to transform the reflection I see. I never make the good better and the better best, but it doesn’t stop me from trying.
While that may sound depressing, even hopeless, I think I have finally found a silver lining, and therefore, a victory in my own war. The fact that I love the internal Heather, the ‘light’ that shines through me and encompasses and sometimes even (hopefully) helps others, is healthy – even purposeful and fulfilling enough to keep me sane and motivated. Still, in a very simple sense, staying active in my physical battle, and never throwing in the towel means that I stay physically healthy and driven. I am fully aware, at 37, that my battle has everything to do with vanity and nothing to do with actual health, as I am not overweight or unhealthy. I am also fully aware of why I am never satisfied. I was targeted as a chubby teenager, made fun of, even laughed at. I wasn’t asked to prom, and didn’t date anyone worthwhile. I watched as my mother constantly struggled with self-image, and constantly battled the same war as me. However, my mom didn’t commit. She didn’t keep fighting the fight. While she spent her life taking care of others, she didn’t take care of herself. I always wanted to be a mom just like her, except that I didn’t want to give up on me. And on the day that she took her last breath, what she didn’t know was that my prayer and promise to myself was to keep fighting for the sake of me as well as for my children. I felt her regret, and there was only the one.
So I wake up each day with a purpose, and usually many purposes, but one thing holds true; I want to remain focused on making the ‘me’ better, so that I can be the best me I can be. While I know that I will never ‘win’ that victory, and that my reflection will never be the ‘best’, I at least know that I’m doing everything in my power to make that a reality. In the end, I want no regrets. In the end, I will know I have done my best. Ironically, that is exactly what my mom always told me was THE most important thing I could do.