Growing up, I wanted to be “the best.” Whether it be a pilot, firefighter, or investment banker, I needed to be the best. I was compelled to be better than the rest – always wanting and seeking hierarchical successes.
I competed over grades in school. Another’s “A” threatened my goals. Before I got into graduate school, I ruthlessly pestered professors with questions and looked for ways to improve my final scores. But I couldn’t compete in the hard sciences (i.e., chemistry, physics, and biology).
I purchased designer clothes like Diesel that were more expensive than others could afford. A sweater that cost over $125 was seen as a necessary cost to stand out. But secretly, I couldn’t afford them either — there were tens of thousands in student loans.
I played poker with my friends, and wanted to make more money than they ever could. First place was a sweet spot, and I reveled in knocking them out of the tournaments. But I lost money more often than I’d like, and felt ethically miserable when winning their money.
I wrote articles that were published in various journals and newspapers. My words created conversation and controversy — exactly as intended. But I saw writers my age publishing in Rolling Stone and massive online news sites. There were others publishing books, when I could merely squeak out 700-word columns.
I pictured running marathons with packs of people behind me. I imagined passing more and more people. But when I ran them, thousands finished before me.
My younger years were filled with the pressure to conform and my budget hurt because of it. Each time “the best” motivated me, I spent more money, competed in unhealthy ways, and looked for ways to put people down.
When I look back at my childhood, I realize how susceptible to American exceptionalism I was. My country was “the best” — better than the rest. And I needed to be a player in that world. I wanted to be a patriot and represent my country, as another best.
Eventually, I got burned out fighting to be the best; then, something powerful happened. In relinquishing this drive, I discovered that there’s always someone better than me (or you). There are nearly 7 billion people on this beautiful globe. Talent, expertise, and “the best” is everywhere you look.
As I let go of this need to be the best, I embraced another emotion. It was something like peace combined with acceptance. But not about being lesser than. It sounded like, “I’m okay as is, and I’m happy doing my personal best.”
There was a secondary consequence of letting go of my compulsion to be the best. My spending plummeted.
I stopped spending as much on food and travel. I sold my car, and got rid of hundreds of dollars in monthly costs associated with ownership (from gasoline to insurance to maintenance to car loan payments). My clothing costs fell, and are nearly $0 every month.
Ironically, I felt healthier and saved more money than ever. The buzz of inadequacy that had promulgated my inner voice quieted. I started to feel comfortable and humbled — happy to be me.
Consumption and affordability are warped and twisted by our drive to be the best. Imagine what your life would be like if you stopped competing with others reputations and talents. It influences everything about our lives.
What if we throw away this cultural norm and embrace who we are today? Would the brand new blazer or dress be as important? Would we finally be happy?