The Speed of Light, and the Best Version of Myself
Advice is like dessert. It is a wonderful thing, but you don’t always have to take it, and too much of it can hurt you. I have received a lot of advice in my short life. Lots of it good, some of it bad, and much of it inapplicable.
One of the most common bits of advice I have received over the years is to, “be the best version of yourself” Depending on who is saying it, those words can be more of a command than a piece of advice. Either way, I find them to be problematic, at best.
When people tell me to be the best version of myself, I know they mean well. Usually. They want me to achieve everything I can and be happy. When they say, “be the best version of yourself,” they are often concerned with superficial aspects of my person. Appearances. People who give this advice might want me to have the best thoughts or the best intentions, but that’s not really what they mean.
They mean they want me to have the best possible appearance. They want me to be better groomed. They want me to wear a suit or style my hair or get lifts for my shoes. I am not against looking good. Nor am I committed to it. I have nothing against fancy clothes or proper grooming, in theory. But I am against the advice itself. For the thoughtful person, being told to be the best version of yourself can produce unwanted feelings of pressure and anxiety.
Consider the speed of light. An object can theoretically get going 99.99999% the speed of light, but it will never actually catch up to a photon. The speed of light is a hypothetical constant. No matter how close you get, it will always be just a little bit further away. Telling someone to approach the speed of light is like telling a donkey to catch the carrot dangling in front of him. It will make the donkey work, sure, but it’s a bit cruel isn’t it? You know the donkey will never get that carrot.
When someone says to be the best version of yourself, they might as well ask you to reach the speed of light. The best version of myself is a hypothetical constant. No mater what I do, that best version will always be just a little but further. I could always look a little nicer, speak a little more clearly, or even act a little better.
As long as we are talking about versions of myself, I might as well mention that there could live a version of me in a parallel universe who is taller, or stronger, or just plain better looking than I am. Maybe the best version of me has a prehensile tail he can use to grab stuff and swing around. There is no way I could ever reach that apex.
Now, there is a certain dignity in striving for things you can never reach, but people should strive for such things on their own. Not on the advice of others. I will always try and be better, but I will never be the best version of me.
Instead of worrying whether or not I am the best version of myself, I am just glad that I am clearly not the worst version of myself. The worst version of myself would probably be a pile of sludge that wears glasses and has a watch. I know I’m not the best, but at least I’m better than a pile of sludge.