What does it mean to do your best?

What does it mean to do your best?

Seems like an odd question to ask. The answer is, well … do your best; give it everything you’ve got.

What does that mean, everything you’ve got?

I hear people say they gave it 100%, and others say that they gave 200%. Hmmm. Makes me wonder if they have any idea what percentages mean.

All through my life I’ve heard people tell me to do my best, or try my best. Always do your best is even the fourth agreement in Don Miguel Ruiz’ “The Four Agreements”.

It’s hard to argue with “Do your best,” but it’s not enough to simply say “Do your best,” and assume that people will know what it means. In fact the common understanding shared by most people about “Do Your Best” is weak and incomplete and leads to frustration and failure, which in turn leads to apathy because many people come to learn – incorrectly – that their best is not good enough.

What is the Common Understandings of Doing Your Best?

There are two elements:

Doing your best means being sincere about wanting to

We assume that being sincere about getting an intended result is a necessary condition of doing your best. In other words you must really want to get an intended result and you must be truthful about your intent to apply the second component of doing your best i.e. giving it your full energy.

Doing your best means giving it your full energy

The second common understanding of doing your best is to give your full energy. We assume that you must be sincere in your intent to give your full energy and that you actually do. The only criteria for giving your full energy seems to be that you try every avenue you can think of until you succeed or that you are very tired when you eventually give up. “I tried my best/I did all I could/I tried everything I could think of … (pant, pant).”

This common understanding of what it means to do your best is weak and incomplete and without a strong framework for doing your best can lead to the only real failure i.e. failure that results in no learning.

We need a more robust understanding of “Do your best”

To get ahead in the 21st century you must leave behind common understandings of doing your best and take on a more sophisticated and rigorous view which includes knowing how to:

  • specify conditions of satisfaction
  • determine requirements to fulfill intended situations
  • assess available competencies and resources
  • fill gaps between requirements and availabilities
  • recover from breakdowns
  • ask for help and when to ask for help
  • declare completion – including quitting – and when to declare completion
  • prepare yourself to do your best – consider that Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, etc. are continually spending their time practicing to do their best.
  • know when to not even try

If you thought doing your best was hard, you were right.  But it’s not brute force hard, it’s more like practice hard.

Any thoughts? Contributions/acknowledgments welcome.