As a millennial, if I had a dollar for every time I heard the phrase “just do your best,” I probably would be living my best life on some influencer island off of Tulum, Mexico.
Probably the most often occurrence where I heard this phrase was from my classroom teachers throughout K-12, mainly during test-taking time. Someone in class would start to panic over a test question. As they looked longingly over to the teacher quietly grading papers, they slowly took the walk-of-shame to try and squeeze some sort of hint from the instructor.
All that was uttered from the instructor was “just do your best.” A death knell overheard by the entire class that communicated two somewhat conflicting messages:
- Your best is all we are asking you to do.
- Your best probably isn’t good enough today.
I say “conflicting” for obvious reasons that we all know: In the real world, “My Best” doesn’t guarantee anything except questioning whether I did enough. Everyone’s best is not the same, and that’s ok!
My art skills peaked in second grade, so my best artwork is likely less visually appealing than yours. And, no matter how much I practice, if I were to bring my best to a basketball court, I still would likely get picked last. But that’s ok, right? We aren’t supposed to be the best at everything, even if that’s a worthy goal to aspire to.
Don’t Let Your Best Hold You Back
We are told to do our best to remove the fear of regret of not doing enough. But for some of us, being asked to ‘do our best’ actually holds us back.
So, what should we do if we aren’t going to do our best? I have two ideas for you to consider:
Replace “Best” with “Better”
You probably learned a rhyme about Good – Better – Best, but I want to re-wire our brains for a second to look at the value of “Being Better” vs “Being the Best”.
The magic of better is in the measurability – if we walk 10,000 steps today, we know that for tomorrow to be better, we can push it to 10,500 steps. Just like we talked about SMART goals, the easiest way to achieving our goals is to focus on being better tomorrow.
Failing Is Part of the Process
Remember that failing is a part of the improvement process. Failure, or when we find out that our effort wasn’t good enough, can be hard for us to take.
The challenge with “doing your best” is that it potentially tricks us into removing failure from the conversation. But failure is vital to improvement, and ultimately success. It’s one of our greatest teachers and motivators – don’t ignore it!
Work Towards Better Every Day
One of my favorite quotes (it’s actually hanging on the wall of my office) is Teddy Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Each day, we are asked to bring the best version of ourselves to whatever arena we are in – work, school, home. Instead of bringing your ‘best’, what if you tried to bring your ‘better’?