A year ago this weekend, I did something I never thought I could do.  I decided to make a change–a change that, without a doubt, has been for the better.  I ended my relationship, moved out, and embarked on what felt like a simultaneously thrilling and terrifying journey into independence.

I avoided this step for so long, because I was afraid of what would lie on the other side.  I feared that, once I was on my own, that I wouldn’t be enough for myself.  I think, over the extended period of time that my relationship occupied, I had convinced myself that I needed someone to validate me–that I needed some romance or a partner of some sort to make me feel worth something.  I was afraid, by leaving and being on my own, I would be less remarkable, less excellent, and less purposeful if I didn’t have someone else into whom I could invest that remarkableness, excellence, and purpose.

And I’ve done this with my job, too.  I’ve spent these first four years of my career trying to achieve excellence, trying to be the best teacher I can be, relying on praise from others in order to recognize within myself what was there all along–with or without the validation.

And I think the universe has found its way of making me realize all of this within the past year.

I’m a competitive person, and inside my veins, this desire to achieve constantly seethes through each of my vessels, nearly burning holes in their delicate walls, increasing the rate of my heart’s beat, sending adrenaline to my brain, widening my eyes and making me alert.  And so, over the past four years, I have worked tirelessly at being the best at what I do, and in the process–through the high highs and the low lows–I’ve learned a lot about myself, what my priorities have been, and what they should be now.

As always, I am willingly and shamelessly happy to share these lessons.  Here goes:

1) I’ve learned that I will never be the best.

Not only is this statement entirely subjective, but it is in the eye of the beholder. Due to the nature of what it means to be me, Paul, I know I will never be the best; I’ll always be trying to achieve more.  I want to continue to improve, and I will always be finding ways to be better.  For this reason, trying to label oneself as the “best” is an effort only striven for in vain.

Instead of trying to be the best, I’m learning to welcome contentment.  I’ve begun to allow myself the chance to revel in moments of success, submerge my heart into moments of disappointment, and appreciate moments of homeostasis–all the while helping me to be a more present and content being.  And the greatest part about it all, is that I’ve allowed myself the opportunity to do this all on my own.

2) I’ve learned that my greatest achievements need to be appreciated by me, and no one else.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s always nice to have others appreciate your achievements, but a lot of times, our greatest achievements most frequently go unrecognized by others.  Because we act so vehemently based on our own values and beliefs, our achievements will be greater in our own eyes, because all the while, we know that we’re holding true to our own values and watching our visions come to fruition.  In fact, I think it is nearly impossible for another being to appreciate personal achievements to the degree that the “achiever” would.

3) Most importantly, I’ve learned that what makes us excellent, in any arena, is our commitment to ourselves, our values and morals, and to taking care of the world around us.

I can say with good conscience that I have acted in a manner that is true to my values and with the intention of only bettering the world in which I live.  I can also say I’ve been the truest version of me I have ever been, and I can’t help but feel, well…

Excellent.

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