I’ve always looked up to my dad. He’s a passionate entrepreneur, a great dad and one of those people, who, more often than not, knows the right thing to say. Over the years he has ‘gifted’ me with words of wisdom on everything from business to relationships, parenting to decision-making. There’s one piece of advice, however, that I probably rely on the most.
Do your best every day.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called my father worried about something that happened, concerned about an outcome or second-guessing myself. And my dad predictably responds with a question. “Did you do your best?” Yes. “That’s all you can do”, he says “You can’t control what happens from here”.
That’s it? Simple, right? But if you really stop to think about it, this supposedly simple piece of advice has the power to help you be happier, more fulfilled and yes, even more successful. How?
- When you do your best every day, you feel better about yourself.
You can rest at ease knowing you did everything you could. That you have no regrets and nothing about which to feel bad or guilty. If you do your best and then someone criticizes you, or doesn’t like what you did, tells you you’re working too slow…or fast, or gives you a hard time, it’s easier to brush off when you know in your heart you did the best you can. There is a lot of peace to be found in that.
Likewise, if you do the best you can and you’re not happy with the result or it doesn’t work out the way you expected, you can be at peace, knowing you did your best and there’s nothing else you could have done, especially now that it’s over.
I ask my clients (and myself) this question all the time. Whether they’re ruminating over something they’ve said, thinking about what they could have done better, or just disappointed about an outcome they had hoped to achieve. Did you do your best? If the answer is Yes, then it’s time to move forward onto something more productive.
Now, let’s be clear. This doesn’t mean you don’t try to do better, to learn, strive, improve and change. These things are still important for our growth and evolution. But if we can think about those things in the context of next time, you’ll probably see more results than if you ‘beat yourself up’. If you’ve done your best, there’s nothing more to do. You can’t change the past, you can only let the past influence your future. You can let the ‘should haves’, ‘would haves’ and ‘could haves’ fall away and save them for what you can do next time.
2. When you do your best every day, you achieve more.
This makes sense, right? Do your best, good stuff happens. Don’t do your best, less happens. And others know when you’re doing your best or not.
My dad shares a story of his father, my grandfather. One summer during the depression, he and three of his college buddies worked for JC Penny. Towards the end of the summer, the store ran out of job-related work for them. So, they asked the boys to wash windows. My grandfather washed the windows, every day, doing the best he could and working hard. The other three boys complained that wasn’t what they were hired to do, were frustrated by the request and decided they would wash the windows slower, so that the work would last the rest of the summer. They phoned it in. But my grandfather just kept on washing, figuring, if he ran out of windows, they would find another job for him, or let him go early. This wasn’t just about hard work, it was about doing his best work regardless of the circumstances.
The following summer, they all went back to apply for jobs again. Guess what happened? Yep, the three guys who slowed down didn’t get rehired. But my grandfather did. His work ethic had left a lasting impression on his boss.
Why wouldn’t you do your best? Doing your best doesn’t cost you anything more. In fact, it probably requires less time and energy than figuring out a way around or through or over something. Let’s face it, when you’re not doing your best, it’s draining. You have to think about it. It takes more effort. And, whether or not you realize it, at some level, you feel bad and guilty, because you know it’s not working. You may think you’re fooling others, but you can never fool yourself!
It doesn’t matter how much someone pays you or how important the job or the person is. You can do your best everyday regardless of the circumstances. Now, I’m not advocating doing a job you hate or doing it for less compensation than is appropriate. In those cases, the best option is usually to look for something else. But staying there and not doing your best, shouldn’t be an option. Because if you’re going to be there, wherever there is, you might as well be there completely. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your time and energy. And someone else’s money and resources.
Doing your best every day, regardless of who’s watching, whether it’s your ‘role’ or not or whether you’re head over heels in love with what you’re doing will make you more productive, successful and healthy.
3. When you do your best every day, you see the world differently:
What if when you’re doing your best every day, you start to believe that others are giving their all too? This is a form of cognitive bias, where we see things that confirm our own existing beliefs.
I like to believe we are all doing our best every day. The best we can with what we have – at that moment, in that situation, with that time frame, our level of skills and knowledge, you name it.
Sometimes we have the skills or emotional intelligence or strategies to handle something better, sometimes we don’t. But everyday, we are ALL doing the best we can with what we have. Now, our best might be better tomorrow. And some days, our best isn’t as good as it was the day before. That’s ok. It’s important to remind yourself, you are doing the best you can with what you have, right now. Let’s be honest, none of us wake up wanting to mess it up, screw it up or make a fool out of ourselves!
When you look at the world through this lens, you realize, that in most cases, everyone else IS also probably doing the best they can with what they have. So, when that colleague doesn’t email you back, instead of assuming he’s an incompetent jerk, you might think twice that he’s busy or he’s gathering more information, so he can respond to you. Or when a friend is a bit curt when you run into her at a coffee shop, you might think she’s having a rough day, not that she’s making a personal attack on you. When your spouse forgets something…again…you can ask yourself, “Are they doing the best they can, today, with what they have?” If they are, then maybe you can respond with a bit more kindness and a little more compassion.
So, how do you know you’ve done your best?
It’s important how you judge your best. Sometimes it’s keeping score. I ran 10 minutes today, I can run 12 tomorrow. Sometimes it’s a ‘gut check’. Did I do the best I knew how to do? Really?
Now, you may be wondering, will accepting I’ve done my best make me lazy, less ambitious, less driven? Actually, I feel it’s just the opposite. Acknowledging when you’ve done your best (and when you haven’t) gives you the freedom to focus on what to improve or change for next time, and stops you from wasting precious time, energy and resources ruminating on something that is already in the past and you can’t control or change.
We’re all learning, growing and evolving. Every day. That’s life. And, my experience with clients and friends is that we are also pretty hard on ourselves. So, whether you find yourself ruminating about a mistake, beating yourself up for something you said, wishing you could change something that’s already happened or worrying about what might.
Ask yourself this question. Did I do the best that I could? If the answer is a resounding “Yes”. Give yourself permission to let go, move on and use your time, energy and emotion to move forward towards your next, knowing you did the best that you could. After all, as my Dad says, “That’s all you can do, you can’t control what happens from here”.
As a results-driven, certified coach and consultant, Tracy partners with individuals to help them achieve greater levels of happiness, fulfillment and success – personally and professionally. www.tracykennedy.com