A few years back, when I was teaching high school instead of five-year olds, I use to know a thing or two about teenagers. For instance, I knew that you can’t try too hard to be liked by them. It helps to be funny. And don’t take yourself too seriously, or you’ll be the laughing stock of the back-row set. I knew that high-schoolers were independent thinkers. They like discussion. Nothing pleases them more than getting adults off topic and onto controversial topics of interests. And while they are passionate about what they believe in, they appreciate passion and energy in the teachers whose classes they attend, as well. They like courses where the teacher is engaged and ready. And those where the topics are relevant, interesting and deliberate.
Bottom line, teens really just want the adults in their lives, including teachers, to see the best in them. Whatever package that best of theirs comes in.
Around this time of the year, a lot of the high-school students in our area start back to work at the fish plants. The hours are wacky. Usually students would work late into the evening, past my bedtime for sure. And this meant they were either no-shows the next day at school or they fell asleep in class. There was this young guy that use to get attention for coming to school and falling asleep in class. (Um, of course there are more than him that do this, but his story was special!) He worked every night and then arrived at school with the buses. Then as soon as the lights went out, and the overhead projector was turned on, he put his head down on his arms and fell asleep. I had a bit of fascination for that guy. I am sure that there were discussions around his lack of participation in class. And I am sure that he was the bane of some teachers existence. If anything, I can identify with how frustrating it can be to project info to a class of uninterested, sleeping learners.
But what fascinated me about The Boy Who Slept in School was: he showed up. It fascinated some other teachers too. And we use to discuss the reasons for his coming to school, as he could obviously have stayed home and got a better sleep. And years later, when I think about him, I am in awe of how he exhibited his personal best, each and every day. Was he a star student? No. Did he ever receive accolades for achievement? Not so much. Was he any more enlightened for the courses he took? Who knows. What impressed me, indeed what has stuck with me all these years later, was the way in which he gave his personal best, each and every day. While other students gave their best shown via their distinguished marks, while others contributed to rich class discussion, while still others perfected their ability to take notes and listen, while still others acted the class clown and got everyone off topic, this guy’s best was simply in showing up. Showing up for class. Showing up for school. Showing up for himself, whatever his reasons. And in showing up, being there, day in and day out, he made an impact. In acting on an impulse that allowed him choice. He chose to act on that choice and show up.
And through the years, it’s got me thinking. I come back to this topic again and again. About what it means to give your best. About what a personal best looks like. About people, and the bests they offer the world around them. About myself and what my own best looks like, from day-to-day.
And I think where we sometimes err in understanding the word best and what it means is when we use it as a tool to compare. Personal bests are never meant for comparison. My daily best might be quite different than your daily best. And what I have to offer should never be brought up in comparison to your life contributions. We each come from very different places, different mindsets, different backgrounds, different circumstances. And when it comes to defining what is best, bests can run the gamet. Bests are usually different.
Because people are different.
Sometimes, a personal best looks real shiny and pretty. It comes wrapped up in bows and sits on the mantle for all to see. Like when you get an award for good service, or recognition for outstanding achievement. But at other times, your best just means holding it together for the sake of your sanity, and the sake of others around you. It’s about not killing the people in your life who are driving you crazy. It’s about choosing to put one foot in front of another. It’s about choosing to sometimes let things go, even when everyone around you is shaking their head in disapproval. It’s about believing in yourself, even when you are not making the mark, when you are falling short from traditional standards. It’s about showing up, when what your exhausted self would rather do is sleep. Forever.
And there are times when showing up is too hard. And one’s personal best becomes just choosing life. Choosing breath over dying. And letting each moment lead to the next. Being one’s best is many different things. And the beauty of being one’s best self, is that it is tailored to fit the person perfectly. Bests come in all shapes and sizes. And personal bests, like snowflakes, never truly look the same twice.
If we chose to see the best in the people around us, to truly believe that each and every person around us was giving their best, in the ways that they were able, how might the world look?
I recently had opportunity to separately talk to two partners in the same failing marriage. From both perspectives, there is a lot of negativity. But when I see these two people, I see two amazing individuals. People with possibility. And I can’t help but wonder, what would things be like for them if they only saw what I see…heard what I heard. That each person is doing their best. That each is a beautiful individual, full of potential and possibility.
I often have discussions around the struggling students in our school systems. These are positive, rich conversations about how best to help these students find their personal best. And I can’t help but wonder, if every teacher, every parent, every individual with connection to a child realized that each student brings their personal best to school, regardless of how that looks and measures up, wouldn’t the school system and our homes be drastically different places?
And past that, if the world was able to be seen through a lens of caring, realizing that we are broken, fragile, hurting people. People who sometimes make tragic mistakes. People who can’t always be let off the hook for wrongs done, but people with some hidden good- somewhere inside, wouldn’t the gift be to try and see, in as much as we are possibly able, the best in people?
Because I believe we all have a best. It just looks different depending on the lens from which we view.
In as much as we are able, how can we then see each one’s best? How then can we not? Does not the peaceful functioning of the world depend on this? We talk about peace, but if we cannot find peace with the people around us, and see that they are bringing their best to the table of life, peace is not an option. We need for our own security and stability, for people to see our best. It’s time we saw the best in others.
And maybe it starts with acknowledging those people for whom their best is simply this. Showing up. And choosing life. Choosing to be civil over angry. Choosing to be calm over irate. And when those are not options. Choosing to be still.
For it’s in the stillness that all our bests shine the brightest.