Several years ago, when my son was being recruited to play major college golf, a prospective coach came up to me at a junior tournament and offered this unsolicited observation: “Don, Once Greg learns to be his own best friend on the golf course, the sky will be the limit!” The comment, which was well-intended, was precipitated by our both having watched Greg express obvious displeasure over a beautiful 4-iron shot that he had just hit 195 yards over a ravine to a spot on the green 20 feet below a guarded pin placement, believing, I suspect, that he could/should have gotten it inside 15 feet! The coach was really saying two things: (1) your son is an exceptionally talented young man; and (2) competitive golf is often a very singular pursuit (i.e., while fellow competitors will (or should) be quick to acknowledge a “good shot” or “a round well-played,” at the end of day, most would rather not see you succeed or at least not succeed to the level they aspire to). Consequently, to be a successful competitive golfer at any level you have to be able to rely on yourself to be your most dependable, unconditional and enthusiastic supporter and cheerleader – or the game will consume you.
I believe the coach’s comment applies with equal (if not greater) force to the “game of life.” In fact, I am convinced that “learning to be your own best friend” is the single most critical (and achievable) first line of attack in the battle to overcome loneliness. Why? Because no matter how “connected” you may be (or think you are), no matter how many “real” or Facebook friends you may have, no matter how much others may want you to be part of their lives and their social calendars, the inescapable reality is that if you’re like most of us (and you are!) you will spend the majority of the 24 hours each of us is allotted today engaged in very singular pursuits (e.g., getting up, getting ready, eating breakfast, sitting at an office desk, sitting in a classroom, doing homework, walking the dog, reading, writing, hanging out around the house, going to bed, etc.), during which your closest companion, the person you will have to rely on to entertain you, to motivate you, to provide you with the emotional support you need, to reinforce a positive self-image is – wait for it – YOU! Consequently, you have to learn to always be there for “you.” You have to be willing to recognize the good in “you.” You have to embrace the fact that “you” are imperfect – and be O.K. with that.
I don’t believe “learning to be your own best friend” comes naturally. To the contrary, I believe most of us are more inclined to be (and have a much easier time being) critical of ourselves. Consciously or subconsciously, we seek out what we perceive to be our “deficiencies.” We dwell on, even obsess about, the mistakes we make (or have made), while barely pausing over all the good that we do, all we have to be proud of, our many accomplishments, large and small, our talents – the things that make us unique. For that reason, at least in the beginning, becoming our own best friend will require a conscious effort on our part. Just like we do in forming friendships with others, we will need to seek out the good in ourselves, the things we like, if not love, about ourselves, the things that, if we saw them in another, we would immediately be attracted to, want more of. When we find them (and, believe me, they’re there to be found!), we need to nurture them, constantly “remind” ourselves of their existence, give ourselves the credit we deserve for them and appreciate them, so that, in time, they will dwarf/suffocate our disproportionately smaller/fewer “shortcomings.” Perhaps a final illustration, borrowed again from my son and the game of golf, will illustrate these points.
A year after the encounter I used to introduce this post, I was watching my son play a round at Colbert Hills, one of the most beautiful (and difficult) courses in the United States. He hit an approach shot into the par 4 9th hole with a 9-iron from approximately 140 yards that came to rest 6 inches from the hole! It was a spectacular shot – one that maybe .01% of the golfers in the United States are capable of hitting. In response, Greg simply tapped down his small divot and headed towards the cart. Not a pause, not a smile, just sort of a “that’s just what I do and expect from myself” response. He may remember me stopping him in his tracks from 50 yards away. “Excuse me,” I said. “Do you realize just how magnificent that shot is?” A slight smile. “You have to allow yourself to appreciate the fact that it was ‘you’ that just hit that shot.” A slightly bigger smile – some positive “relationship building with self” beginning to take place. “I’m going to have to insist that you pause for a moment and allow that shot to sink in, to take up residence in your soul.” And so it is with each of us. Our ability to succeed in this battle we have decided to wage against loneliness in our own lives and, ultimately, in the lives of others, depends first on our ability to love ourselves. It can’t happen without it!