I heard a really inspiring quote once that went something like this: “Be the best in the world on your worst day.”
Usually motivational one-liners like this don’t really capture my imagination, but this one really struck a chord with me. We’ve all felt “up against it” at many moments in our lives—like we’re facing some insurmountable resistance that is invisible to everyone else around us and plagues our endeavors.
Maybe we’re involved in some sporting event while we have the flu, or we’re at the office after staying up all night fighting with our partner, or we’re giving a speech after hearing the news of a close family member’s passing. There are all sorts of stressful situations people could be enduring that go by entirely unseen, and there are times when we are forced to perform some kind of action while contending with these underlying struggles.
I think we’ve all been there.
It’s easy to look good at something that we’ve practiced when there is no adversity. It is when we are challenged that our true character shines through. That’s the essence of the quote. If we can continue to operate on the highest possible frequency, even when we’re impaired or hindered in some way, the whole world becomes our frontier. There is no greater achievement than being the best version of ourselves even when we’re in our worst moments. This is the quality of a true champion and the challenge of living the hero’s journey.
Having endured a severely crippling and painful chronic illness for the past six years as a young man at the tender age of 24, I’ve had many “worst days.” It’s been like swimming up against a tidal wave—and once I think I’ve finally made it, I realize I’m about to be swept away once again. There’s really no “winning” when living with a chronic illness, and even when I am successful at something—that feeling is soon washed away in a sea of unbearable symptoms. It’s been an ego check, to say the least.
There are many times when I’m writing, making a video, or just having a conversation with a friend, and I’m hit with a wave of overwhelming discomfort and yucky feels. I just have to do what I can to stay focused and keep going on, even if it’s impossible. I could just descend into a victim identity, accepting that I am disabled and trying to live as comfortably as possible. The problem is, I don’t want that. I have a burning desire in me to create, in spite of my condition, and literally nothing is going to keep my from doing that.
I am learning to be my best on my worst days (which come quite often in fact), manifesting my potential to the best of my ability regardless of what challenge I am facing. When I am overwhelmed with symptoms, I just acknowledge the fact that I am affected and proceed to sharpen my tools and hone my skills. I even get a little thrill out of knowing how debilitated I am and what I’m accomplishing under the kind of stress I’m experiencing that so few people have to deal with. That’s the competitive side of me, and it’s useful when I’m really feeling the pressure of my illness.
Here are a couple things that I’ve learned about being world-class when we are suffering and experiencing resistance:
Be adaptable. When we need everything to go right in order for us to perform—i.e. I need my lucky socks, I can’t work if I missed breakfast, I’m feeling a little off today—we’re setting ourselves up for defeat. We must be able to adapt to adversity if we’re going to overcome whatever challenges we are faced with and continue to strive toward being the best version of ourselves.
We can’t expect everything to be perfect. To be comfortable in uncomfortable situations is a necessary skill in meeting our true potential and transforming our lives into a masterful work of art. Be prepared for the unexpected. Adapt to what arises without feeling like a victim. Who knows, maybe one opportunity will fall through because of misfortune and 10 more opportunities will pop back up. We don’t know what will happen, so we must adapt to what comes.
Be present. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the present moment is the only place where anything ever happens—we might as well make our bed there. When our attention is grounded in the present moment, we can stay sharp when that tidal wave of bullsh*t comes around. We don’t need to be perfect, we just need to be here now—have all of our energies centered in the immediacy of our direct experience. I like to call this “being there when it happens.”
Our challenges are reinforced by our thoughts, which are always taking us away from the present moment. If we can dwell in that holy space between stimuli and response, as the stoics say, or as my meditation teacher says, “Rest in the gaps between breaths,” we feel a deep sense of aliveness that reveals itself through all of our endeavors and shines through the thick layer of our conditioning. Every moment is endowed with awareness and meaning, because we’re living on the edge of reality. We’re ready for anything.
Again, to be the best version of ourselves on our worst days is the greatest human achievement, and if can take some steps toward that I think we’ll be in a pretty good place. It’s a powerful journey to take, and it’s certainly worth taking.