Have you ever been in a competition and got a place, or a grade in school that was less than what you had hoped for, and then someone tried to comfort you by saying “There, there, you did your best, and that’s what counts.” I know I have, and it’s a really common thing to say in those kind of scenarios. You see the person work hard and diligently, and you feel obligated to assure them that they tried well. For me however, and I wasn’t sure if this was a unique feeling or if it was shared by others… but as soon as people said to me, “You did your best” I just heard it echo in my head until it came to a halt with my inner voice of reason asking, “..but did I though?”
What is our true best, and will we ever reach it? Go back in time to a timed exam you have had. Perhaps you scrambled and scribbled away, clicking furiously away at your calculator, beads of sweat making your hands clammy, your heart is racing as you focus on solving every problem and checking your answers with the same vigor, courage, and ingenuity you would muster if being chased by a man-eating lion. (Am I the only one who had test anxiety with math classes?) My point being, yes, it is likely that in that span of time, you may have tried your very hardest, and done your absolute best on that exam.
However, your best in that testing moment, was impacted greatly by the hours, days, weeks, and months, or even years previous. If for instance you had studied just 2 more hours the previous day for that same test, your score quite likely would be a few points higher, your hand a little steadier, and your confidence that much higher. Our best is an open ended number, constantly evolving as we let it. We may think something impossible for us, whether that be getting an A on a math test, conquering a phobia, getting our dream job, starting our side hustle, writing a book… Etc.. And quite validly, those things may be impossible, or near impossible to accomplish immediately at your CURRENT BEST. After all, maybe you are ‘just bad at math’, maybe whatever your phobia is, ‘completely petrifies you’, maybe your dream job requires credentials or particular skill sets that you don’t YET process, maybe your side hustle requires marketing know-how to take off, or a different skill or equipment you don’t YET possess, or maybe you don’t YET know anything of what goes into writing a book or supposedly don’t have the time to begin writing.
Most usually things that are impossible are possible, but it takes time to build up the skills, there are things to learn, steps to take…. So doing your best to write a book right now? Maybe it would be a really crappy manuscript. The practice however, and research, revisions, rewrites can change your best over time. Even if you wrote ‘your best’ it doesn’t mean that is your all time best and that you’ll never be able to master authorship
I am sorry (not sorry) for sounding like a book nerd now but writing this brings to mind a quote from Jane Austen’s book Pride and Prejudice:
“I certainly have not the talent which some people possess,” said Darcy, “of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.”
“My fingers,” said Elizabeth, “do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women’s do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault—because I will not take the trouble of practicing. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman’s of superior execution.” (32.24-25)
Mr. Darcy essentially is saying he isn’t skilled at conversation, and using that as an excuse for why he doesn’t converse much. His love interest wittingly points out to him, as she sits at the piano, that the reason she is not the best at the piano is because she hasn’t put in the work. Everything takes practice, and as we objectively practice, and learn the best WAY to practice, our best improves.
I’ve just recently launched an Etsy shop, admittedly, I had a different Etsy shop when I was about 16, it wasn’t successful, but then, I wasn’t doing my best. Still, I didn’t have all the know how then either. I tried though, I tried, and then decided my products weren’t worth it, the time I’d put into the shop wasn’t returning. Maybe Etsy was just ‘not for me’. I abandoned that shop, having only ever stocked it with 2 types of products and only 15 items, and received no sales after 4 months. My new shop, at this current moment in time, has 6 different types of products, has over 70 items, and 5 sales, and 1 product review after a month from launch. I know that’s not amazing, it’s not the best, but it’s better, I learned from my mistakes last time around and (most importantly) I’m running with the punches, and changing things as I go.
This time around instead of saying I’m not cut out for it, I’m taking the feedback I get and applying it. Some products are getting more views than others, so I’m designing more of those types, since variety is better, I’m working on adding other types of products. I just learned how important SEO is (there was a time I didn’t even know that existed) on those listings so that the products show up sooner in search results. So I have to change the titles, descriptions and tags appropriately. I’m taking advantage of product stats, and marketing. Blah, blah, blah, blah.
My point is, that there’s so much that goes into that, so much to think about that I didn’t anticipate. I had to relearn Photoshop, I’ve been listening to tons of podcasts, reading blog posts and watching YouTube videos to figure out what the heck I’m doing. Often so many of our dreams are like that, it’s not a bed of roses like we thought, we have to be willing to learn, act, and change. If in a year from now, if I look back on my Etsy Shop or even look back at my blog (*gasp*) and decide it was a flop, and someone says “That’s okay, you did your best” I’ll know that yes, at times I did my best with what I knew… but that I could have done better if I had equipped myself properly. Not just doing the same thing over and over again hoping for better results (Which is the actual definition of insanity by the way), I have to keep changing and acting.
A mistake I often make, is coming to a steady line of ‘fine’ and I wait until that dip down into the ground before putting forth my best effort. It’s when times look tough, when that lion is in front of us or the teacher says ‘you can now start the test.’ That we put on our game faces and make our best effort. We often wait until the stakes are high to make a change. I’ve seen this with people starting relationships too, going into it and then realizing they need to change something about themselves to make the relationship work, when it would have been so much healthier to change that before you got into that relationship. Personal changes, changes in health, changes with our families, changes in business, changes in politics… Most of those changes are made when things are really not okay, that’s when people rise up to action.
The real game changers are the people who take that initiative for change when everything is doing just fine. They start preparing, they start projects when everything is okay – when it’s not yet a necessity. Don’t wait until your situation is dire or perfect, just start now. In that way you expand your limitations and stretch what your ‘best’ means. By putting in that extra 10% now you will be setting up your future self for a better best. That’s when mediocre turns to great. As you accept yourself as an ever changing person who is capable of anything if you simply start, keep trying, and are willing to learn, act, and change over time.