Musings + Essays

When Are You the Best Version of Yourself?

By: Jen Shoop

Among the many fascinating and sharp comments on last week’s icebreaker post, Erin wrote: “I am the best version of myself in the fall.” So many of you write with such poised self-awareness, and comments like this feel spring-loaded in the best possible way: those ten words might contain years of a spiraling search for self. Such comments come to me, tadpole-like: a small, well-formed anterior with a diaphanous, long tail. They bring to mind these words from Toni Morrison:

“The difficulty for me in writing—among the difficulties—is to write language that can work quietly on a page for a reader who doesn’t hear anything. Now for that, one has to work very carefully with what is in between the words. What is not said. Which is measure, which is rhythm, and so on. So, it is what you don’t write that frequently gives what you do write its power.”

Just to say — reading some of your well-turned comments last week (and always!) gestured at the depths to which you have plumbed to know yourselves.

I am curious, though: when are you the best version of yourself? Have you given that prompt much thought?

My answer came quickly. I feel my best — my full self, my whole being — when I am with my husband, and I am certain it is because I feel wholly loved by him.

But what does “at my best” mean? I intuitively think – “full-fat, whole milk.” But maybe it means “when I am most at service to others” or “most creative” or or or —

What do you think?

If we follow my intuition, I continue to think I am at my best when with Landon. He follows me to every turret and gate in my personality and meets me there. You would think that after being together for nearly twenty years (!), we would know one another so well as to be able to take shortcuts in these meanderings, but no: there is always, with him, a surprise, and he affords me the same latitude. He keeps me on my toes in a way that leaves me honest, agile, and curious, and at the same time motivated to explore the full range of my emotions and thoughts. (I can change — And he will meet me there, too!) I feel sometimes that I self-mediate too much in my interactions with others: I am always hyper-aware of how other people are reacting and receiving my energy, and sometimes this alertness thwarts an authentic exchange. But Mr. Magpie brings out the most stripped-down, guileless, authentic version of myself. (It seems like it has always been this way, but is it really the benefit of time and age?)

How about you? So as not to bait the question, your answer might be wildly different: tethered to a place, or a phase of life, or an actual season (c.f. Erin’s comment), or a time of day, or none of those things. I did briefly think about mentioning that I felt like a better version of myself while pregnant with my son. There was something about that pregnancy that filled me with uncharacteristic serenity. I remember walking through New York while expecting him and feeling like I was absolutely floating through my day, anointed with an unearned grace. Which is, you know, saying a lot because New York has a habit of battering you around and showing you who’s boss. (I am here reminded of a fantastic New Yorker comic sketch of a haggard looking man staggering into his apartment and his wife saying: “Who won today, you or New York?”).

How about you?

Post Scripts.

+Speaking of NYC: it is still a shock.

+”Put differently: I am only half living when we are apart. The other half is suspended in anticipatory conversation, waiting for the moment when I can fill you in.” (From miscellaneous reflections on 10 years of marriage.)

+Many of you love this post on Mr. Magpie’s Jeep. His foil and ferry.

+Things to say yes to.

+Things that mattered to me at 18. (Almost none of which matter now.)

+When are you most in your own element?

Shopping Break.

+This wrap coat is so unexpected in that sky blue. I have a mauvey-lilac-pink coat from years ago that I get compliments on ALL the time. It is so unusual and fun to see a statement coat!

+Speaking of unexpected: these Gucci sneaks do all the talking for you.

+ADORE this cropped, hot pink cardigan. (Still on a hot pink kick — I bought this hot pink sports bra (more sizes with no discount here) from Beyond Yoga and it sparks major joy for me. Do I need the matching shorts?!)

+OBSESSED with the colors of these Nike sneaks.

+These are the absolute best sticker books for little girls. So detailed and whimsical, and the vignettes on the pages are always exciting for mini.

+These little bow bags are BEYOND adorable.

+This waffle sweater in the pink is a YES! (At time of writing, under $40!)

+Gap released its “big shirt” in some great stripes/colors. I kind of like the patchwork one? So wild and chic. With white jeans?

+OMG — Sunhouse Children has some seriously cute new items out.

+This four pack of toddler leggings in the neutral/pink/ditsy are a great starting point for a spring wardrobe.

+Loving all the bright/bold table linens from Summerill.

+These heart sneakers for children are on sale and SO cute!

+Just love this floral dress from The Great.

+This $24 cardigan for a little has been a big hit/help this season. It goes with SO much in mini’s wardrobe and is a nice quality for the price. Would be great heading into spring!

+Eyeing these pants for spring/summer. I have been trying, the last few years, to get out of my denim rut and wear different types of trousers/bottoms! These feel so chic.

+This tiny eyelet set in the khaki!

+This dress, in the navy! La Ligne vibes. (Compare with this.)

+And this floral raincoat!!!

+This crisp Rosie Assoulin dress is like 70% off. SO chic.

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19 thoughts on “When Are You the Best Version of Yourself?

  1. I always say summer is my season – I definitely feel like my best self when I can sneak down to the beach on a weekday; when I’m wearing cut-offs and have bare feet; when I have a million freckles and time to read all the books and chase chickens with my friends’ kiddos. Thinking about this is so poignant for me because I have to move out of my apartment for the summer while the building gets renovated so I’m trying to stay hopeful that I’ll be able to channel these feelings without the roots of home.

    In the meantime, off to go read the icebreakers, I love these prompts! xxx

    1. Hi Clea! I’m sorry to hear about your imminent displacement but I love these memories you’ve shared here. You are definitely a summer person! I love bare feet, too.

      Enjoy the icebreakers – there are so many good answers!


  2. I love this prompt. I’m in an challenging stage of life. I’m pregnant but having a hard time with this pregnancy – I don’t feel like myself and have physical limitations, plus so many other restrictions because of the pandemic. I was so blissfully happy with my first pregnancy – I miss the joy.
    I appreciated the early post about being in an organized space. I love to clean and tidy and find a home for things. I’m still thinking of where I feel my best. Maybe it changes with time and different seasons of life.

    1. Hi Lara – I agree that this can be an elastic concept — thanks for that prompt, too. I’m sorry this pregnancy has been different than the last, and not in a better way. Will be thinking of you as you muscle through the final trimesters — I was anxious with both mini and micro’s pregnancies to just get to the end. It is really tough! I was telling my sister just the other week that I remember feeling SO relieved after giving birth that my body was “back to myself.” When I was pregnant with micro, I tripped and split my head open and my first reactions were: “who cares about me, is the baby OK?” I just hated that stress of worrying about how I was sleeping, what I was eating, etc — you are literally carrying (!) the wellbeing of another person in your physical being. Anyway, not sure if that’s exactly what you’re feeling, but just to say, I so relate to how you feel and am thinking of you. Go easy on yourself!! Sending you the best vibes.


  3. I am at my best when my surroundings are at their best. An organized and clean space with a completed to-do list creates a calm/zen that I have yet to replicate in any other situation. I’m in the midst of a bedroom renovation and have items in boxes throughout the house and while starting to put things in their new spaces is overwhelming (what if I don’t maximize my new storage, what if I don’t get rid of things I no longer need?), I am anxiously awaiting the day this project can be finished and I can sit quietly in my new space that is perfectly designed for me at this stage in my life. Upgrading to a custom bed frame and finally framing art from decades of traveling and collecting makes me so excited.

    Alternatively- when the stars align and my lifelong best friends and I are at a table, glasses full of wines from our various travel adventures, catching up on our latest achievements, trials and day to day happenings, I become incandescently happy. It’s hard to make me smile as much as I do with my best friends (of 25+ years).

    I am my best self when I feel safe. Whether that is a place, situation or person, I have learned the importance of feeling safe to express my thoughts, desires and fears.

    1. This is so true, Melinda – I feel the same way. Safe spaces! I think that gets at the underlying happiness/comfort of being with my husband!


  4. I am my best self by the ocean, where my senses are more alive and most at home. Any ocean will do, but preferably the Atlantic off Martha’s Vineyard. It’s a very nostalgic place for me and life is just clearer there.

    1. Hi Quincy! So interesting that it is place-based for you — love that. I love the way you phrased this: “Life is just clearer there.” It reminded me of some of my thoughts about Colorado, where I spent most of my summers growing up. I just felt closer to life, to God there.


  5. I love that you’re your best self with your husband! I wish I could say the same. I love him so much and am confident that I chose right – however for me it’s not a person but a place that I think brings out my best self.

    I live in the country now, in a house on top of a hill with views across farmland and native forest to the sea, but I just am at my best in the city. New York is a former home, and still my favourite (although your description of the New Yorker cartoon made me laugh out loud and grimace remembering how hard just one day could be there); London, another former home, holds some of my heart; but as a New Zealander I accept that even Auckland will do the trick. I am introverted yet I thrive on being around people, especially incredibly smart, passionate people, and I have a restless mind that does better with less space to wander. The city gives me those things.

    Not being able to travel internationally for over two years now and being locked out of the city for five months last year left me feeling stranded far away on an island far away from my best self, but a day trip in for some appointments a week or so ago went a long way to fixing that. The country is a good choice for my family right now, and it may not be a bad idea for me to learn to corral my brain without relying on near-constant external stimulation, but I *need* the city to keep me me.

    1. Hi Hayley — This is so fascinating and insightful. I admire your various self-awarenesses here, clearly borne of a lot of introspection. Hopefully you can find a way to the city more frequently now — it sounds like it’s life-giving to you. What a relief, in a sense, to know that about yourself, and to possibly chalk up various moments of angst and wander to your distance from a metropolis!


  6. GAH how did I miss the ice breaker post?!? I love those! Maybe bc it was our second snow day in a row and my husband had just been diagnosed with Covid (shortly followed by myself and both little girls). Since I’m still not feeling well, it’s hard to imagine being my best self so I’m just going to answer the ice breakers here, if you’ll humor me 🙂

    Have you ever been told you look like somebody famous? Who? I’ve gotten Julia Stiles, but I don’t see it!

    If you were a season (spring, summer, fall, winter), which would you be? I like the distinction here – not your favorite season, but which would you *be*…for that reason, I’ll say winter. I looooove spring but since I’m an introvert and enneagram 1, I think that comes across like a more cool, rigid, reserved “winter.” But with love and loyalty at the center, a la Valentine’s Day in the middle of winter 😉

    Best celebrity run-in? I was in a surf shop with Elle macpherson in San Diego once, but was too busy shopping for board shorts to see her (eye roll). My brother and SIL spotted her.

    If you could re-name yourself, what would it be? I’ll stick with Stephanie. But I did choose Andrea as my name for high school Spanish classes.

    Things you would always request in a green room if you were famous. Cadbury mini eggs, no matter the season. I’d be v high maintenance 😉 Also, lots of water to refill my Yeti.

    Favorite ice cream flavor. Jeni’s salty caramel. But I agree that haagen-dazs pb chocolate is hard to beat!

    Ideal breakfast. A sugar bomb, like a homemade cinnamon roll, with a side of bacon and/or scrambled eggs for protein so I don’t float away from the sugar high 🙂 And coffee of course!

    Celebrity crush. This will sound super random, but since I’ve been watching the Winter Olympics all weekend, I’m remembering how I had a crush on Norwegian downhill skier Aksel Lund svindal (see, random!) after watching a piece about his recovery from devastating injury. I think it was on tv in advance of the 2010 winter games. I cheered for him after that until he retired 🙂 Also, like several other Magpies, young Paul Newman. LOVE Butch Cassidy.

    1. I am SO sorry to hear about the snow days and COVID! I feel those pains acutely. Thinking of you and hoping you and your entire family a speedy and straight-forward recovery.

      Thank you for sharing these happy responses! I am so hungry reading through all of these. Why do I simultaneously want an enormous thermos of water, PB-choc ice cream, and aforementioned cinnamon roll with bacon on the side? Yum!


  7. Is it cheating to say I am at my best when traveling? Not the actual travel part (I am terrible with the stress of the airport)but the vacation, arrival part. I have more energy, am more adventurous, and am much happier. Especially when traveling with my husband but also with my kids.

    It feels like cheating to say I’m at my best with no responsibilities or work or daily to do’s.

    1. Not at all cheating — I think getting away from the noise/responsibility/routine would give me the latitude to feel more fully alive and awake too. Hoping a lot of travel is in our collective future…I think we all need to get OUT and AWAY!


  8. This may not be quite the same, but this post reminded me of a time when I felt that I became truly me. I had just got out of a horrible relationship and was walking back to my new apartment on the UWS through Central Park. It was a beautiful spring day – I even remember I was wearing a yellow flowy skirt and suddenly it started to pour rain even though the sun was still shining – I remember twirling through the rain filled with such joy. Twirling is very out of character for me! But I had such a feeling of freedom and of returning to me again. Whenever I feel lost, although my life is so different now as a wife (to a wonderful man!) and mom, I always think of that moment and how that moment feels like my essence if that makes sense!

    1. Oh gosh – Amy, I love this! What a gorgeous memory and backdrop to the memory. I treasure touchpoints like that, moments you can revisit when you are feeling lost/frustrated/etc. Interestingly, CP also holds a lot of “threshhold” moments like this for me. I remember many soul-searching walks and runs around Sheep Meadow and Jackie O. in particular. Thank you for sharing this.


  9. Wow, “full-fat, whole milk” really made me chuckle *and* nod in agreement. Yes!

    I think I would say I’m at my best when I’m mothering. Being a mom draws on all my strengths, and my weaknesses don’t rear their ugly heads as much. (By contrast, my current job, I think, exacerbates some of my personal flaws and does not currently allow me to use my strengths as much as I’d like.) And I’m really the best mom when I’m with my husband, so my truest, fullest, self comes out on happy weekend days when we are all together. Yesterday was a perfect Sunday as such, and I really did feel like the best version of myself — productive but relaxed, generous, loving and affectionate, patient and playful. Thank you for prompting me to pause and reflect on this!

    1. WOW Susie! This is just beautiful! Reading your description filled me with a sense of peace — it’s so wonderful to witness other people hitting their stride, blooming where they are planted (or where they’ve planted themselves!). Thanks for sharing this.


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