A friend recently sent me a copy of Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper with her column “I’ve Been Thinking…” In this particular column, Shriver muses about the virtues of being told to simply “have a day” as opposed to feeling pressured to “have a good day” since the latter has been a challenge for most people during the pandemic. Shriver suggests we should allow ourselves to have a day that isn’t great or even OK. She writes, “Who wants to be told “have a great day!” when you don’t have a job, when you’ve run through your savings, when you have no idea what tomorrow will bring? Maybe “have a day” is just the response of the day. Maybe it’s enough.”
When my son was 10 years old, he approached my husband and me one day and asked if he could attend an “away camp” that summer. We agreed. Though he didn’t know anyone who was headed there, he chose Merrowvista, one of the camps affiliated with the American Youth Foundation. The motto of AYF is “My own self, At my very best, All the time” and it provides the framework for all of their programs. I was struck by how well the staff at Merrowvista integrated the motto into our son’s experience and how that made an impression on him and carried him well beyond those two summer weeks spent in the mountains of New Hampshire. Who can argue with having a constant touchstone for your thoughts and actions which encourages you to be your best self?
But what exactly does it mean to be my own best self? Does it mean I should strive to bring my A-game to every situation? Must I try to sustain peak physical and emotional states so I can achieve my fullest potential? Is the focus on my best self, meaning I shouldn’t compare myself to others? Or to extend Maria Shriver’s idea, do I need to acknowledge that “best” may not be in the cards for me every day and that’s OK? Perhaps it is all of the above.
I have found that what is my own best self is confined to the limitations I face in the moment. Sometimes my capacity is diminished — my capacity for kindness when I am enduring my own hurts; my capacity for giving someone my full attention when my mind is full of worry or distraction; my capacity to lend a hand when I am short on time; my capacity for understanding and offering a sympathetic ear when I have heard it all before. Have you found yourself in similar moments, times when you feel tired and all you really desire is to turn inward and cocoon yourself?
These moments, however, are precisely when we need that touchstone: Can I be my own self, at my very best, right now? Personally, I can never answer affirmatively without a quick prayer. I need to pull over and get help from the ultimate pit stop crew – the Holy Trinity – to provide me more fuel and new tires, so I can make it through the next crucial laps. It doesn’t mean that it will be my best race, a finish with a record-breaking time, but it means I’ll finish. And on those days, that version of best means I had more than “a day,” I had a “good day.”