Did you grow up hearing time and again “Just do your best”? You probably did, like most of us. It’s a common expectation about many things in life, such as schoolwork, exams, giving a presentation at work or writing a report. It’s taken as a given that we should do our best in pretty much everything we do. For perfectionists, this is a way of life, albeit a very stressful one that can lead to mental, physical and emotional ill-health. Striving to do our best all the time is exhausting and if we feel our best isn’t good enough, it can have a terrible effect on our self-esteem and leave us feeling like a failure.
Do Your Best. The role of others’ opinions
The compulsion to do our best at all times is based a lot on other people’s opinions of us, and usually starts in childhood. We want others to think well of us and not criticize our efforts. We want them to see us as talented and capable, clever and able to do anything that’s expected of us. We want them to give us top marks every time.
The thing is, our performance in any task should never be linked to our self-esteem. Our actions need to be separated from our sense of self-worth.
If we perform a task badly, it should never be the case that we feel we are a worthless or bad person. Our value as a human being has nothing to do with our abilities, and perfectionism certainly has no place in our sense of worth.
Other people’s opinions of your efforts should never influence your self-worth either because the only opinion that counts is yours.
You should never think less of yourself whenever you don’t do your best in something, and you should never worry about others’ opinions of you full stop. Chances are they are too busy worrying about their own performance to consider yours.
Your self-worth does not depend on good grades, praise, success, or being the best. None of these things determines your value. You are valuable in your own right.
Do your best when it matters most to you
The fact is we don’t need to do our best in everything we do. It is instead far better to try to do our best in the things that matter the most to us. To do this, we need to set limits and be discerning. We need to be stricter with our time and make priorities.
When we prioritize our activities and decide that doing certain tasks in a good enough or even average way is totally fine, we lift a heavyweight off our shoulders.
We also learn that it’s actually no big deal if we don’t do our best all the time. In fact, it frees up time and energy to focus on the tasks that do matter to us.
This extra time and energy can help us to create better work in the things that are important to us. And sometimes it pays not to try to do our best first time around, but expect an imperfect result that we can work on and improve.
If we strive all the time to do our best we become afraid to experiment and fail, but failure is actually very fruitful because we learn such a lot from it.
Most of us have been brought up to try to avoid failure and not make mistakes. It can make us feel hesitant about trying new things because we’re worried we won’t be any good at them. As a result, we miss out on activities that could bring us a lot of enjoyment or extra skills. It’s very true that you don’t know what you can do until you try.
You simply don’t need to do your best in everything. You don’t need to cook the best meal every evening, or spend hours writing the best report or throw the best party ever.
Very often, good enough is the best option. Very often, mediocre is just fine, so prioritize your activities and reserve your time and energy for the things that are the most important to you.
Doing things for fun regardless of the outcome
When we prioritize our tasks, we realize that most activities don’t require our best efforts and for that reason, we should focus on “do” instead of “do your best”.
Do something for the sheer enjoyment of it, such as drawing or painting for fun, no matter the result. Play a sport without worrying about winning or losing, or being competitive.
Try a new activity or do something you feel you are “no good at” without any thoughts about outcomes, just to see if you’ll enjoy doing it.
Don’t avoid things because you assume you won’t do well at them – if you do, you could be denying yourself a lot of enjoyment. Experimentation, “failure” and mistakes have a lot of positives. And the more you do something, the better at it you tend to become.
So the next time someone tells you “just do your best”, think about whether it’s actually the best thing for you to do.