Dear Carolyn • You often talk about a "best self" and the ways people should either live that themselves or permit others to do so. I can guess what a best self might be, but I wonder what your workaday definition is?
Dear Best Self • It's when you like yourself. Or, when you're getting the most out of your strengths and succumbing the least to your weaknesses. It's highly personal, but here are some ideas for cultivating strength: Are you doing things that are meaningful to you; well-suited to your interests, skills and talents; and challenging enough to keep you humble? Are you with people to whom you want to be kind; who reinforce your good choices; and who don't inspire persistent doubts about whether they're dependable, genuinely fond of you, free of ulterior motives, honest with you? Are you that person to those you love? Do you take responsibility for your choices and their consequences? Do you honor your promises and commitments, to yourself and others? Do you forgive? Do you take care of yourself in small ways like flossing, and in big ways like thinking through potential consequences before you act? And do you put yourself first in ways that sustain you, to minimize your burdening of others? As for taming weaknesses: Do you realize your needs have the same status as everyone else's? And you're not the hero in every encounter with others? Are you mindful of your flaws and demons? Do you make choices that put distance between you and your temptations? Do you resist the impulse to blame others when things go wrong? Do you understand the boundary between your and others' business, and stay on your side? When you're unsure, do you admit that and seek help? When you're about to express negativity or a criticism, do you ask yourself whether it needs expressing? And imagine how its target will feel? Since all of these questions hinge on solid self-awareness, I'd call Step 1 a brutally honest assessment of what you bring to the party and how you're most likely to wreck it.
Carolyn Hax's column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.