If you have a perfectionist streak it probably seems self-evident that you should strive to do your best in every situation.
But for submissive or people-pleasing types, doing your best is not a point of pride but a distorted sense of responsibility to others.
“Always do your best” but who are you doing it for?
I recently discovered this flawed premise operating in aspects of my own life. The words “always do my best” really meant “I have to rise to others’ expectations”.
I wasn’t doing my best so I could be proud of myself and appreciate my accomplishments, I was submitting to a vague yet compelling demand that I do the best I could do in every situation.
And in practice that meant taking on burden on top of burden; if you can do something, you should do it. If something can be done better, you should find a way to do it better.
These are all subtle yet insidious interpretations of “do the best you can” and rather than try to unpack them all, the simple question is: who am I doing my best for?
I wasn’t doing my best for me, but for the accountability of nameless others who might judge me for my insufficient efforts and imperfect results. Doing my best was a defense against accusations of laziness and, worse, bad priorities.
Doing my best was a demand issued by others to meet their expectations and please them.
The truth is I don’t care about doing my best because I’ll never do my best, because my best is always changing and expanding.
What I care about is pleasing and satisfying myself, because nothing else is a reliable or accurate measure of success.
And so I conclude that it feels really good to stop doing my best, stop trying to please others with “the best I can do” and let that pleasure be my measure instead.
As I reached this conclusion, the words of an old song came to mind:
Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything…that’s how the light gets in.