Monday, July 16, 2012

Your Best

There are some phrases to which I have what might be best described as an allergic reaction. One such phrase is: you did your best.

No matter how calm I am, no matter how recently I've taken my adderall, whenever I hear it (or its close cousin, "you did everything you could"), I feel this sense of agitation that results in body-wide hyperactivity.


Um... well I was thinking about that as I stood in the shower this morning. Hmm...

Just Not True
Okay, first of all, neither statement is ever true. "Best" and "everything" are superlatives. Outside of a context, they only exist theoretically. In this case, there's a bit of context, i.e., you. YOU did the best YOU could. YOU did everything YOU could.  Still, you never do your absolute best; you can always do better. You never do everything; you can always do more.

Okay, "never" is an overstatement as "never" also only exists theoretically. Let's put it this way. Take the largest number you can say. Multiply it by itself. Now divide that into one. It's possible that you did your best or that you did everything. However the odds of that are equal to the number you just computed.

Fact is, no matter how hard you try, no matter how well you do, no matter how many resources you bring to bear, you can always do more and you can always do better. The two statements are nonsensical at best.

Second is the problem of consolation. You usually tell someone he did his best as a form of consolation. It's offered in the wake of failure and often preceded by phrases like "but" or "at least".  It goes something like, "I know that you'd really hoped this would turn out better and that you feel like you really screwed up, but, hey, at least you gave it your best shot, right?"

To me, it's not very consoling to know that I did as well as someone like me could hope to do. It's like hearing, "Wow, you play really well for someone who's not a musician", or, "For someone who'se not very smart, you did great on that test."

It's OK to Quit
Third is the might-as-well-quit factor. It's bad enough that the phrases are fallacy and that they do little by way of consolation. However the thing that gets my fingers drumming most rigorously is the natural response to one's best not being good enough.

She quits.

If you believe the assumptions, then it's the only logical conclusion. You failed after having done everything possible. You gave it your all. It only makes sense to give up. Who could blame you for quitting? Shit, they should laud you for you effort.

It's logical, just wrong.

For some, this provides blessed relief. Knowing that you've done all you could allows you to guiltlessly let go of obligations you have no desire to pursue.

For some, the conclusion is a slap in the face, a denial of what they truly desire.

You see both all the time.

People use it to maintain self-image while doing something they find distasteful. A parent might use it to avoid the guilt of having given up on a challenging child. An adult child might use it to assuage the discomfort of abdicating management of an adolescent parent.

People hear it when others give up on them. Since it usually comes from someone you respect (a teacher, a parent, an "expert"), you buy it. "Yeah, I really thought I could be a great musician, but people who know about these things told me that it'd never happen."

It's all such bullshit.

Much Obliged
There never comes a time when you've exhausted all the possibilities, never a time when you couldn't do better. Sure, there may be specific instances where you did everything possible, but were limited by circumstances. Even then, you'd do better the next time based upon what you'd learn from your failure, that is, if you were open to learning versus open to quitting.

Does this mean that you SHOULD continue no matter what?

Hell, no. Obligation is a terrible reason to do something. People who do things out of obligation often get in the way of people who would do the same things out of love. Whether relating to some one, or some activity, or some occupation, relationships built on obligation are rarely satisfying.

Nope. If you wanna quit, then quit. Do it as soon as possible. Pursue something you love.

However, don't kid yourself into believing that you quit because you exhausted the possibilities. You may feel better in the moment, but deep inside you'll always know that wasn't not true. Further, if you're quitting a person, the side-effects of the lie to that person may be significant.

If you're wanna quit, do it cleanly and clearly. Don't fall into rationalization and justification.

If you're not ready to quit, then decide to love what you're doing. Go out there and do your best. Give it all you've got. Know that the next time, your best will be better and what you've got will be in greater abundance.

Happy Monday,

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