Wearing his cap and gown, Shawn steps up to the podium in front of family and friends. He’s barely a C-student, but the valedictorian let him speak in her place. This is how he ends his speech:
“I was thinking about how much this place has been my home, and how many times I screwed up while I was here. And how I could have done better. I could have done better. That’s how I feel. I’m sorry. I could have done better. Congratulations to those who did . . .”
This is Cory, Shawn, and Topanga’s graduation scene of the 1990s hit sitcom Boy Meets World (if you know one thing about me, it’s that I love Boy Meets World). It aired in 1998, but this speech has always stuck with me (I would have been fourteen at the time). Granted, I’ve since seen the episode dozens of times (did I mention I love Boy Meets World?), but still . . .
Five words: I could have done better. What an awful—yet relatable—sentiment to experience at the end of something: school, a job, a relationship, your kids’ childhood, or even life.
All too often, it is at the end when I realize that I could have done better. In the moment, I am focusing on anything and everything else. In my pursuit for happiness, I choose momentary pleasure over lasting joy—time and time again. I choose a-second-rate-version-of-myself instead of the-best-version-of-myself because it’s easier or because I lie to myself or because I’m afraid.
I hope you never have to look back and admit, “I could have done better.” But how? You have to consistently choose the-best-version-of-yourself so that, when the end does come you aren’t saying “I could have done better” but instead, “I did my best.”
If you put 100% of your effort into being more kind, patient, generous, courageous, disciplined, and humble. This is your best self.
If you’d like to avoid saying those five little words at the end of every day (I could have done better), if you’d like to begin learning how to better yourself, how to be the best you, understand that it is a decision you need to make each day. Here’s how to become the-best-version-of-yourself.
Two Important Notes:
Note #1: Choice
I spent about fifteen minutes coming up with the title for this article. It went from “How to Be . . .” to “How to Become . . .” to “Tips for becoming . . .” when I finally landed on the current version: How to Choose The-Best-Version-of-Yourself” [emphasis obviously added].
Choice is the key. Generally speaking, Americans have relinquished the responsibility of our choices. We’ve given this responsibility to whomever will take it so we can be the spotless victim. It’s safer in that role. We choose to believe we are just a product of circumstance and not the author of our own happiness. It’s a lie.
With each decision, you are making a choice between the-best-version-of-yourself or a-second-rate-version-of-yourself. You choose. Nobody else chooses for you. You are the author. Take up your pen, and write your greatness.
Note #2: Never Finished
The second point is this: you are never finished. You never wake up one day and go, “Boom! Best-version-of-myself . . . I’mma make myself an omelet.” You are a work in progress, until the day you die.
Each day you are making decisions that move you toward or away from the-best-version-of-yourself. Some days will be more challenging than others. Some decisions will be more obviously black and white than others. But you’re never finished. Your goal is progress, not perfection. Today, make better decisions than yesterday. Tomorrow, make better decisions than today.
Right. So . . . how do you know what to choose? How do you know when and how you can choose the-best-version-of-yourself? To answer this, you will have to ask yourself three big questions.
Three Big Questions:
1. Who Is Your Best Self?
If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know which direction to go and how will you know when you get there?
Likewise, if you don’t know who you want to be, if you don’t know who you are truly capable of being, it makes it pretty difficult to become that person. You can’t even take the first step toward bettering yourself.
Success is this: becoming the best version of yourself.
First, think about the best people you know. Not the happiest or most successful, though they may be happy and successful. But the best people. What do they have in common? Are they courageous or cowardly? Patient or impatient? Humble or prideful? Selfish or generous? Are they strong leaders who value hard work, or do they get by with the least amount of effort possible? Write down the characteristics they have in common.
Now think about your best self. Close your eyes and try to imagine that person. Not who you want to be, but the best person you are capable of being if you put 100 percent of your effort into being more kind, patient, generous, courageous, disciplined, and humble. This is your best self. Success is this: becoming the best-version-of-yourself.
What does she look like? What does he sound like? What does she do on weekends? How does he spend his free time? What does she do for a living? What are his friends like? What is her family life like? Write all this down if it helps you; it’ll be helpful to be able to go back and reference it when you’re struggling with a decision.
Okay! Target acquired. You’ve got your destination. You have met the-best-version-of-yourself. Now you need your compass . . .
2. What Is Your Best Self’s Purpose?
I have a purpose. You have a purpose. We all have a purpose.
You were made for something.
So, how do you know when you’re doing what you were made for? If you’re currently miserable, there’s a good chance you’re not fulfilling your purpose.
Your purpose is your North Star. It is your compass. Each decision you make should be guided by your purpose.
All too often we associate our job with our purpose, but this is dangerous. Your purpose can be your job, but it doesn’t have to be (and I would argue that more often than not, it’s not). Maybe it’s to be the best father and husband you can be. Maybe it’s to be a great teacher, or doctor, or nurse, or project manager. Maybe it’s to volunteer on weekends or to write about traveling or to be a positive influence in a young person’s life or to be a stay-at-home-mom and raise amazing children. Whatever it is, you need to find it.
Spend some time in silence this week and ask yourself: “Why am I here?”
Other questions that can guide you are:
- “What makes me truly happy?”
- “If I could do one thing and know I wouldn’t fail, what would it be?”
- “What am I doing when I feel like I am at my best—emotionally, physically, intellectually, and spiritually?”
- “When was the last time I experienced real joy?”
- “When do I feel most at peace?”
- “If I knew I was going to die exactly one year from today, what would I stop doing right now?”
If you spend a good amount of time reflecting on these questions, your best self’s purpose will come into focus.
Your purpose is your North Star. It is your compass. It might change over the course of your life—because life changes—but that’s Okay as long as you are regularly spending time with yourself in silence to ask yourself these big questions.
Each decision you make should be guided by your purpose. You can then strive to avoid anything that takes you off your purpose’s path. Ask yourself, “Does this help fulfill my best self’s purpose?” You’ll know the answer.
Okay. So now you know where you’re going, and you’ve got your compass to keep you on track. Now it’s time to clear your path of obstacles . . .
3. What Prevents You from Being Your Best Self?
Nobody wants to be a-second-rate-version-of-themselves. I have never met anyone who has consciously said, “Today, I am going to make bad choices that hurt myself and everyone I love.”
You design your life with the choices you make. You are the builder; your choices are the bricks.
Yet, when faced with choosing the-best-version-of-ourselves and a-second-rate-version-of-ourselves, how often do we choose the latter? While many things in life are out of your control, who you are and how you react to the world is your choice. You design your life with the choices you make. You are the builder; your choices are the bricks.
I make the wrong choice all the time, whether it’s saying the wrong thing to my wife (and knowing full well beforehand), or getting upset when driving (“Hi. My name is Peter and I have road rage”), or choosing Cheez-Its instead of an apple (Italian Four Cheese, if you’re wondering).
So what is it for you? Take some time and really think about it. What is it that you consistently choose that prevents you from being the-best-version-of-yourself? Unhealthy foods, pornography, debt and impulsive spending, jealousy, laziness, social media, gossip, anger, negativity, procrastinating, doubt and self-image issues?
Once you recognize the enemy, once you give the enemy its name, once you accept that you are choosing to put these obstacles between you and your best self, you can fight back. How? Virtue.
Every vice that leads to a-second-rate-version-of-yourself has an opposite virtue that leads to the-best-version-of-yourself. Struggling with selfishness? Practice generosity. Is pride preventing your best self from shining forth? Practice humility. Are you battling an addiction? Practice self-mastery and discipline.
Notice the word I used three times there? Practice.
Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes better. Better is your goal.
Rid yourself of obstacles. If pornography is getting in the way of you being
the-best-version-of-yourself, get rid of your computer. If social media is getting in the way, delete your account. If impulsive spending and debt are crippling your best self, get rid of your credit cards and create a budget. Take control of your life.
When you’re struggling, say this to yourself:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
So where do you go from here? It all feels so unattainable, doesn’t it? It seems so difficult and complex. But it doesn’t have to be.
The trick is just doing the next right thing. Not the ten or one hundred next right things. Just the next right thing—one at a time—on the path to the-best-version-of-yourself.
You know what the-best-version-of-yourself looks like (and what it doesn’t look like).
You know why your best self exists and what you should be doing to fulfill your best self’s purpose.
And you know what might get in your best-self’s way and how to rid yourself of obstacles by practicing virtue.
There’s only one thing left to do:
The next right thing.
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