Who are you doing your best for?

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.

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