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My Name Is Iden | ‘Best self’ over being ‘the best’

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The new year is upon us. A time for reflection and, for many of us, resolution. This is the time for getting to work on being our “best selves.”

I am not at all against self-improvement, but I do think that, collectively, we need to examine the way we set goals for ourselves. If we aren’t careful and intentional with the resolutions we make, then our positive efforts can lead to unintentionally negative outcomes.

I am a certified self-improvement addict, a relentless goal-setter, and I fell into the trap that many of us do. I confused “my best” with “the best.” Not understanding the difference set me up for a catastrophic, and thoroughly humbling, failure.

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On the first day of medic school, each seat had an enormous stack of books at it. I looked at the pillar of knowledge that I was to be responsible for and panicked. All I could think about was how many patients were going to die if I couldn’t somehow cram all of it into my brain. What if I couldn’t do it? What if I made a mistake?

I resolved then and there that I would try harder at this than I had at anything else in my life. I would become the best paramedic. Ever. The perfect paramedic that knew it all and never made mistakes.

I got right on it. I finished at the top of my class. I pushed myself everyday at work, on the medic unit, in the hospital, practicing, asking questions, always trying to reach that goal of Best.

I kept that up for nearly 20 years, and I became very good. My supervisors all told me I was the best paramedic they had ever worked with. My co-workers said the same, and they trusted every decision I made without question.

When people tell you something like that enough, you start to believe it. No matter how modest or grounded a person you think you are, you start to believe it. I welcomed all of that praise because, to me at least, it meant I had made it. All of that work and study had paid off. I had reached my goal and kept the resolution I had made all those years ago. I was the Best.

It was two in the morning. The engine crew had arrived right away and performed perfectly.

The patient’s heart was beating again. The police were there with the family keeping them out of the way and calm. I was the last paramedic on the scene. The last of seven to walk through the door.

Everybody looked at me to take charge like they always did. This seemed like an easy save to me. His heart was beating, we were close to a hospital. All I needed was to pop a tube into this guy’s trachea and drive off like a boss.

Piece of cake. I tubed people all the time, and I couldn’t remember the last time I hadn’t been successful. I didn’t take the time to position myself or the patient appropriately. I didn’t properly assemble all of my equipment. I didn’t do those things because I didn’t need to. I was the best.

Then I missed the tube. Twice. The patient’s heart rate began to drop. That’s a simple fix if you’re paying attention, but I wasn’t.

The engine crew started CPR again. By now the patient’s airway was full of vomit. That’s a simple fix if you have your suction equipment prepared. But I didn’t.

I was way behind now. My scene was out of control. My patient was dying. My easy save had become a nightmare. All the while, the police were having a harder and harder time keeping the family calm. Everyone could see things had gone sideways.

I tried to regroup. We got the patient out to the ambulance. The family was screaming and crying. They wanted to know what was happening. They wanted to know what had gone wrong. The police told this man’s family, “Don’t worry. That’s our best paramedic.”

By two-thirty in the morning that man was dead. By three-thirty I was back in my bunk wondering what had gone wrong.

That sort of failure is one you carry forever. It was everything I had feared way back when I first stared down that stack of books. How could that have happened? I was the best.

I had made many mistakes that night, but the biggest was allowing myself to believe that I was in fact “the best” or that that was even possible. It never should have been my goal to begin with. What if instead I had resolved to always “do my best?” I would not have allowed myself that level of arrogance and complacency.

When I started to see myself as a master, I ceased being a student. I stopped practicing. I stopped learning. I stopped doing all of the things that had made me good.

I still set goals for myself each year. I still work hard to be and do my best. But never again will I work to be the best. I would like to ask each of you, as you journey toward that better self, to remember the lesson I learned that night. Maybe the stakes won’t be as high as a human life, but unhappiness can come in many forms. If we set our destinations carefully, and travel intentionally, we can avoid those traps and unhappinesses and truly live as our best selves.

*The author is an artist and writer. She lives in Yellow Springs with her wife and three children. You can follow her work at


One Response to “My Name Is Iden | ‘Best self’ over being ‘the best’”

  1. Blessed says:

    Thank you for your honesty. After reading this, I’m humbled with gratitude for never having been told I am the best at anything! Even when garnering an “A” on coursework, I realized that those A’s were undoubtedly easier to acquire by others then my hours of study so that I wouldn’t panic during the exam and could ‘answer without thinking.’ Not a clue as to what ‘the best me’ would even be; `bout the only thing I strive for is “being here now” (when I remember because it can be difficult) to grasp this moment, whatever it contains, for this moment, and the inevitable sum of all ‘these moments’ will be my life. Someone may say “— made the best lentil soup” or some other trivial equivalent, but ultimately, Who ~on Earth~ would know if I was my ‘best?’ Thank you again and please keep writing.

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