Stop doing your "best"

I hate being told to do my best.

When I was a kid this seemed to happen on a weekly basis. Our culture works hard to whip the goldbrickers into contributing members of society while their fontanelles are still soft. Doing one's best was put forth as a moral and ethical precept by which society judges the relative worth of its members. If you were not doing your best, then you were behaving as less of a person, and consequently deserved less of what the tribe was able to provide.

Nowadays, my "best" is typically only brought up in consolatory remarks: "Ah well, you did your best". This, offered in response to some self-recriminating post mortem remarks, intended not as a call for consolation but as the way I cope when things go wrong. By griping I'm trying to reverse-engineer the event. I don't need to be reminded of my own limitations.

But when someone brings up my "best", my attention turns inwards. Did I really do my best? At the time, it seemed like I was doing everything I knew how to do...But whose fault is it if I'm undereducated about what things need to be done? Would not one's "best" involve preparing oneself for every eventuality? What if the demon of laziness which hides inside me had actually been deluding me, and that there were actually many more avenues to explore before my "best" could really be said to have been achieved. If only I had been pure of spirit, I would have been capable of much more.

The problem with using "your best" as the standard by which you are judged by society (and yourself) is that it is both a high bar and a poorly defined one, and when a high bar is poorly defined you can essentially never reach it, because of the trap of self-esteem.

If you have high self-esteem, then you place your "best" quite high indeed, thus lowering your chances of reaching it. When you fail to reach it, you will enter the spiral of self-doubt and recrimination described above: what is wrong with me, spiritually, for some part of me to halt my progress towards my "best"?

If you have low self-esteem, lower than the esteem others have for you, then your inability to live up to their expectations must be due to either a moral failing on your part, or intentional sabotage.

In either case, the fact is that you were just doing what you always do, which is a combination of avoiding getting yelled at, and maybe having some fun. To ourselves, we never talk about our "best" in terms of face value. When we declare to ourselves (or others) that we have "done our best", it isn't ever something to be celebrated; we are not saying it as a point of pride. We are almost always responding to accusations (real or imagined) of incompetence or sloth.

The irony is that claiming that we've "done our best" in those situations doesn't actually help our case. If we were really performing at our maximum capacity and the results were still sub-par, then the case for our incompetence is made stronger. And a sloth has no idea what his "best" even is, so his own assessment of it is meaningless.

But even if all that were not true, the fact that we whine out this old saw only during times when we are attempting to salvage the work-ethical high ground, tells me that "one's best" is not a real concept, but is actually a rhetorical parry, used to bolster or salve our egos when we are made to feel that we are not pulling our weight in society. The phraseology was bequeathed to us by the mad cross-pollination of the human potential movement with the military-industrial-educational system, and it continues to confuse the relationship between our personal responsibility and our individual journeys to the truest version of ourselves.

Don't make me feel guilty about not living up to your expectations, and I won't make you feel guilty for asking for more than I can provide. This has nothing to do with my "best". This is about getting along.

That old-fashion post-coital feeling

You can never take them out