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.

Accepting love without earning it

Many of us grow up feeling that our place in the world is not assured, that love and happiness must be earned or accomplished.

We look for ways to please others or keep our own hope alive – the thought that being different, becoming more or better will bring us the love we desire.

As adults it can be hard to disentangle being loved as we are from these patterns of behaviour that are all about being loved for what we do or who we hope to become.

In relationships we tune out the love that is already there, and focus instead on our own promises and ideals about the person we want to be.

Love and momentum

Even if we are loved for who we are, our own self-image may be tied up with “being better”.

We are carried by the momentum of old stories in which we imagined ourselves being more successful, more attractive, more loveable in any number of ways.

But in most cases the people who actually love us don’t know those stories and don’t care either. People love us not for our promise of who we are going to be; they love us for who we have been the whole time.

If we really want to feel that love, it has to start with us. We have to begin thinking thoughts about how loveable we already are, and always have been.

We need to appreciate that we have always been loved in our very essence, quite apart from our qualities and attributes.

And it helps a whole lot to know that who we are in essence is love. Our innermost being is an extension of divine love. Love is less a condition of how others relate to us and more a condition of our very existence.

When you charge your phone you don’t think about whether your phone deserves electricity or not. You charge it because that’s what it needs to function.

Your heart doesn’t beat because you’ve earned it. It beats because that’s what life is.

And this is what love is too: it’s the feeling of life within you, the spiritual essence of your existence here. Love is the greater part of your being, and it’s focused right now and always on your physical experience.

Emotional guidance

In fact that’s why it felt so bad in the first place: the very thought that we might not be worthy of the love we had enjoyed naturally as small children. It’s the falseness and disharmony of this thought that caused us such strong emotional guidance to the contrary.

The more we thought “I’m not good enough”, the worse we felt.

And in that awful feeling of emptiness arose the idea of changing ourselves until we were good enough.

But that just adds more plans and strategies on top of the initial falsehood. We don’t feel bad because we aren’t loved; we feel bad because we keep focusing on thoughts that feel bad, thoughts like “I’m not good enough”.

And the answer isn’t quite “I am good enough”, because love was never something we earned.

Love is natural. Love is who I am. Love is part of my being. Love is the precondition of my existence. Love is my starting point, my foundation. Love is always present to me. Love is the source of my being.

There is nothing I need do. There is nothing asked of me. There is nothing required for love to flow, except that I allow it.