In a pre-COVID 19 time and a world that seems very distant right now, my 13 year-old daughter and I sat down with her soccer coach one evening for an end-of-season player evaluation. After assessing herself as currently a “7”, my daughter said she’d like to improve her performance to a 10. A bit surprised by her response, the coach asked, “why a 10”? My daughter’s answer: “I always want to be my best.”
As a father, I’m blessed to have a daughter who aims high. It’s inspiring to hear her talk about being the best she can be. Of course, we also have to contend with the meltdowns that result from her drive to excel. To be sure, there are upsides and downsides to her striving for “the best”.
In many regards, my work focus mimics my parenting. I’m a leadership coach, and I have the good fortune to work with smart, hard-working professionals whose goal for coaching often is to fine-tune the behaviors that already make them successful. These people strive to be the best at everything they do, much like my daughter! Amazingly, they often have the aura of having figured out how to have their cake and eat it too.
The reality for my clients, however, can be quite different than what we see from the outside looking in. While we envy their success, they – not uncommonly – experience a high degree of emotional unsettlement. It’s as though one chorus of voices in their heads drives them onward and upward to ever-greater professional achievement and material success. At the same time, other voices get drowned out.
These voices ask such questions as:
- Why does the treadmill seem to keep accelerating?
- How much longer will I be expected to maintain this frenetic pace?
- I know my income enables a lot of opportunities for my family, but am I neglecting my most important customers?
- My kids complain that I’m always on the phone. Don’t they appreciate that working from home creates a lot of flexibility for me to be with them?
- I make lots of sacrifices for my spouse’s career, and I do feel fortunate to get so much time with my kids. Still, I wonder when it will be my turn to focus on the work that I want to do.
- How am I supposed to make money / get clients when I constantly jump in to cover for my spouse?
- Will I ever trust that prioritizing my kids over my career is acceptable?
- Why does my spouse simultaneously resent me for not contributing “enough” at home and then criticize how I cook, clean, etc.?
If you look like the success story that the rest of us probably envy, how much does the inside resemble the outside? Do the questions above look familiar? Do you do work hard to ignore them, knowing you won’t like the answers? Have you found a way to be equanimous in the midst of it all, or do you struggle to mask the worry, stress, anxiety, and self-doubt? I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas, etc. If you like, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.
Returning to my daughter, my pride mixes with a measure of concern as I wonder:
- Does she sincerely want to improve? (Is it inner drive or a desire to please her parents?)
- Does she believe she has to choose between constantly improving and feeling proud of what she has accomplished?
As my daughter grows, I hope she’ll be able to define “my best” in a manner that she finds fulfilling, rather than leaving her stressed and worried that “best” will never be “enough”.