Yesterday I had a small tantrum about a photo taken earlier in the day. Before we continue, let me say that I am painfully aware of how ridiculous that is and how I need to just fucking get a life and think about actual problems. Stick with me though, because it’s just an example of my messed-up thinking which is the real point of this post. ‘I just want to get better!’ I whined, screwing up my face like a small child, ‘I’m supposed to be improving! I just want to be able to do my best!’
I had the same tantrum last week about a blog post I’d written (this blog post), which ‘wasn’t my best’ either. It wasn’t, I know that, but it’s hardly tantrum-worthy.
Needless to say, I am a stickler for the ‘doing your best’ thing, but not in the wholesome way it sounds. I’ve written before about my perfectionist’s view of ‘if it’s not perfect, it’s terrible’, and in much the same vein I carry this impressively nuanced thinking into ‘if it’s not my best, it’s not worth doing’ too.
Obviously, this isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. It’s great to take pride in what you’re doing, and placing the importance on trying as hard as you can is a good way of lessening the pressure of things that are daunting or difficult. I’m sure that especially growing up we all heard the phrase ‘just do your best’, and the sentiment is a positive one; you don’t have to win the race, or get an A, or beat everyone else, you just need to try as well as you can.
And I think it’s reasonable, too to want to be constantly improving a little. The problem lies when you become quite hellbent on some weird idea of ‘beating’ yourself each and every time you do anything, and so fixated on the pressure of ‘doing your best’ that you forget other things. Many years ago when I realised that I was plainly mediocre and never going to ‘beat’ other people to come out in first place in any particular thing, I made myself the previous version of me the person to beat instead. It was a good idea; it stopped me from focusing on what others were doing and look to improve my own performance in something instead.
My ever-warping brain has managed to warp even this harmless and well-meaning approach now though. ‘Do your best’ has come to mean ‘you need each thing you do to become your new best thing’. This post, for example, was received really well by you lovely people (thank you, to anyone who left a comment or shared it, I appreciate it so much). Stupidly, I became so worried about ‘topping’ it and making sure that I write something to ‘beat’ it, that I’ve had a really tough time writing anything since, opting instead to stew over the fact that I don’t have anything profound to share which must mean I’m rubbish. If a campaign is successful at work, it really bothers me for the next to be less so. If I run 5km in a certain time, I get hugely frustrated if the next time I try, it’s no faster.
The last week has really demonstrated to me that as ever, I need to loosen up. Sometimes, you don’t need to do your ‘best’ – you just need to do it (or not at all – fuck it, have a snooze instead). If I did my very best email writing at work all day? People would get some really well written emails, but they probably wouldn’t make a difference to the actual result, because actually, my average email writing is perfectly acceptable. If I did my very best blog post writing each time? I’d be going to bed even later than I am already and I’d barely post. It would be ridiculous to assume that someone is going to do every single thing better than their previous attempt every single time, because believe it or not there’s more than just ‘how hard you’re trying’ behind each success or disappointment.
Which brings me on to the real point I’m trying to remember; life happens, and things still need to be done, and you and I are probably trying very hard already. It’s easy to forget that some days, your best will be different to what it is on other days; improvements and development are a winding road, a journey where you might take several steps forward and back, not a ladder to be climbed rung by rung. Some days trying your best will mean achieving things you didn’t think you could, or surpassing previous accomplishments – and some days, you’ll be firefighting all the shit that life throws at you and your best will just be to emerge at the end of it unscathed or get out of bed to face the world.
So I know this sounds like the same thing, but it’s honestly not; I’m trying to stop thinking about doing my ‘best’ and just do my best instead.
Photography: Rob Poor