Superlatives are the Worst

I had thought perhaps to name this post “embracing your inner beginner” but the irony of this title was too delicious to pass up – it also conveys a bit of my own frustration with a constant push to attain “the best.”  This title is also one of the few times I will concede the value of superlatives – as a grammatical function to express a degree of comparison. My problem with superlatives, which sparked this title, is when we use them to rank and compare ourselves and others.

Somewhere along the journey, I started adopting a language that said “I’ll never be the best” or “I don’t have to be the (insert relevant superlative here – fastest, smartest, most graceful, etc.).”  On the surface, this looks like giving myself permission to accept myself as I am.  In reality, I wanted to be the superlative and those statements were resignation; settling for “acceptance.”  Undoubtedly, this seems like a reasonable proposition.  Self-acceptance is a popular concept and one about which we hear frequently.  But when self-acceptance is couched in language that still finds its root in relation to the superlative, we’re actually still stuck.

By defining ourselves and others as the fastest, slowest, tallest, shortest, smartest, dumbest, prettiest, ugliest, best, and worst, we miss out.  It takes courage to try new things; to step off familiar paths and venture into the unknown.  If we all embodied courage and allowed ourselves to take beginner steps, we’d have a fuller experience of life.  We’d also develop curiosity and become a lot less definitive about ourselves and others.  By adopting this approach, over time, we will see our need to compete for acceptance diminish – because acceptance will be assumed.  No longer will the other person who has attributes or skills we admire be a rival, but rather a potential friend or teacher.

The gentler title of “embracing your inner beginner” actually gives us access to true self-acceptance. Instead of thinking about who we are relative to others, we start thinking about ourselves in terms of where we are, what we are experiencing, and what we are learning.  Reflecting on childhood experiences is a great starting point here.  What if we started to frame our many childhood experiences as a beginners first steps?  No one would ever say that my cake experiment at two-years old using of parmesan cheese and Cheerios was a culinary success; but it was a start in learning how to bake.  What if my friend’s electronic experiments that blew up a little bit were the first steps towards his interest in theatre lighting design? I’m sure you could name some of your own examples of beginners first attempts.  Too often, I’ve heard people describe their younger selves as “the worst.”  I say we need to readjust our perspective and recognize the beginner in all of us, at every step along the way.

The inner beginner lives with us throughout our lives.  The first dance class is one beginning; but so is learning a new movement or rhythm.  Knowing that first steps aren’t last steps opens up a world of possibility where we can become rather than constantly expecting ourselves to have arrived.

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