By Elisheva Hirsch, Arts and Culture Editor
When I was younger, someone I respect told me that there will always be someone better at whatever it is I’m doing, and someone better than the person who’s better than me. They said that that’s the way the world works for everyone, so I should stop comparing myself to others. I heard their message, and I mostly accepted its truth. Yet a small voice in the back of my head cried: at some point, if you follow the chain long enough, there really is someone who comes out as the absolute best! So aren’t those few people the only ones who are truly successful at what they do? As someone who has always loved following competitive gymnastics, I quickly landed on Simone Biles as a perfect example. With multiple Olympic medals and gymnastic moves named after her, she truly earned her nickname “GOAT,” or Greatest Of All Time. I felt bad for whoever competed against her; if they would never be as good as her, what was the point in even trying?
As we headed into the 2020 Olympics, I, along with the rest of the world, was confident that Simone would perform with her usual best, stunning everyone with her remarkable skill. So when I saw the breaking news notification on my phone that Simone Biles had withdrawn from the women’s gymnastics team final, I was shocked. Later, when I had time to research what went on, I was saddened to learn that she cited mental health reasons, and then also the “twisties,” a phenomenon in which gymnasts lose their ability to gauge where they are in the air, making it extremely dangerous to execute moves safely.
I don’t know what Simone Biles’ specific mental health concerns are, and it isn’t my place or anyone’s to try and guess them. But all this has led me to think about how our society’s emphasis and praise for the GOAT position must put tremendous pressure on the few people who have actually made it there to uphold it. That kind of pressure can’t be easy or enjoyable to withstand. It makes continuing to do what you’ve been working for your entire life incredibly difficult, to the point where it can even prevent you from doing it at all. Considering all this, being the best at something simply for the sake of being the best at it does not seem like a worthwhile value to be striving for.
However, doing your best is something to strive for. The difference lies in seeing life either as a competition against everyone else in the room, or as a mosaic in which we all push ourselves to utilize our talents and abilities to make the world a more colorful place. Yes, it’s true that some may be more technically skilled and score higher than others, and that when some like Simone Biles push themselves they may end up in the top place. But that doesn’t negate every other individual’s performance, because they too have pushed themselves to perform their own best. Each best is unique with their passion, flair, or pure apparent joy at doing what they love, making their contribution meaningful and worthwhile.
This mindset has only heightened my reverence for Simone Biles. Her brave decision to prioritize her health and withdraw from some competitions at the Olympics was her doing her very best, even if she didn’t get the scores expected of the best gymnast in the world. Because doing your best includes choosing to value things that truly matter, like health in this case. It leaves room for fluctuation, depending on our changing mental and physical health and contexts: your best can look different from moment to moment. In contrast, aiming to be the best includes pushing aside other values in pursuit of the one goal of being at the very top.
So whether there is always someone better than you at something or you are the GOAT, it doesn’t matter either way. What matters is that we push ourselves to try new things and work hard, because it’s in that space that we change ourselves and the world in a way only we, with our unique talents and personality traits, can.