Our theme for the month of March is “Part Two.” Writers were challenged to choose a piece they’ve previously contributed to the post calvin and revisit it, perhaps writing a sequel or reflecting on how things have changed.
Josh’s original post is “I Am Failing.”
“It doesn’t matter what you do,” I will tell my children, “as long as you like yourself better than you like most other people.”
My parents didn’t teach me that, at least not in those words, and I can’t find it in my notes from college, either. I can find, though, Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need, which gets close. Liking yourself seems more or less a prerequisite for deep gladness, and if you see a world’s deep need that you can do something about, well, that sounds like the “better than you like other people” part.
Now, let me clear things up. I know “better than most other people” tends to stir up feelings. Depending on who’s saying it and how I feel that day, as soon as someone says something about being better than others, I either get behind her and agree that, yeah, she does have her shit together and we had better shut up and listen, or I write her off as an arrogant jackass. But I’m not talking about that. I’m saying “better than you like most other people,” and those two extra words make it an entirely different animal. I’m not talking about improvement, valuing others, different priorities, external validation, or any of those things. I’m just talking about liking yourself.
During a long, introspective backpacking trip, a friend dredged up his flaws and strengths, the parts of his life that made him ashamed and the parts that made him proud. He meandered barefoot around cold alpine lakes and his sense of himself, and that night, wrapped in a sleeping bag and the glow of looking at his life head-on, he concluded: “I’m okay with me.” This felt profound, in the same way Mr. Rodger’s scandal-free celebrity feels profound. Something that should be universal, made special only because so few others can get it together. Why does it take eighteen miles, forty-eight hundred feet of elevation gain, and hours of near-tears introspection to like yourself?
I don’t go for the wretched worm, depraved sinner stuff. We’ve got enough insecurity and anxiety these days. I know humility matters, sure, but compared to the problem of self-loathing, it’s like running up to a person with a freshly lopped-off leg and telling him he needs to clip the toenails on his good foot. Of the Christ-like qualities most of us need, I want to nominate self-liking.
Self-liking goes beyond self-worth. You can reduce self-worth to a reason to take care of yourself, or if you let it simmer down a little more, a reason to not tolerate abuse. If you leave it on the burner a half hour longer, self-worth can shrink to a mandate against suicide. I want my children to have that, of course, but I want more for them.
“It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you like yourself better than you like most other people.”
It’s a comparison, but not in a way that wins arguments or gets noticed. It’s a quiet, easy confidence and an apples-to-oranges sort of thing. I’d rather make orange juice from an orange than from an apple, which is obvious and simple and took me a long time to apply to my own life. To take things out of metaphor: I want my children to like their lives and themselves, not because they’re better, but because they fit in themselves better than they’d fit in someone else.
Don’t get me wrong about all this—I haven’t changed into a new person. I still want to be better than other people, too. I want to be the muscled, emotionally stable backcountry skier who woos an intelligent woman, writes bestselling books, and shares wisdom with dozens of intimate friends. But I won’t encourage my children to be the best. In all likelihood, they’ll contract that compulsion from me just fine on their own.
What I’ll say directly, what I’ll make sure they know when they’re questioning career choices or choosing figs or deciding where to live: “It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you like yourself better than you like most other people.”