There is probably no single person alive in America today (and perhaps the world) who has not heard the advice, “whatever you do, always give it your best.” I grew up convinced this was good advice, even noble and admirable. We should always give our best effort, I figured, but this is easier said than done. What does “best effort” mean? Weren’t our successes enabled by a series of right conditions that we had nothing to do with and have no ability to reconstruct in the future?
The road to h*ll is paved with good intentions
Not that our teachers, parents, and mentors—in their desire to help us flourish—had bad intentions for us, but they convinced us we could control our ability to win and succeed with our best efforts. Failures and defeats, on the other hand, were a sign of our shortcomings and engendered from them caustic reactions like “you didn’t want it bad enough”, “you didn’t give it your best”, “you didn’t try hard”.
For the sake of transparency, I used these same values and beliefs in raising my kids.
But attaching our ability to win and prevail solely on our best efforts just isn’t true! I learned through years of athletic competition that some days you don’t move as fast nor are you as strong as on some other days. Sometimes you are competing against someone who has more experience or is more skilled. This doesn’t mean you are unworthy of respect because you didn’t want it enough, or you didn’t give it your best.
Think of any other failures you experienced. You didn’t get that promotion, or your boyfriend broke up with you, or you got laid off. Did this all happen because of your lack of desire or your refusal to take responsibility? I doubt it, the promotion may have gone to someone more senior or better qualified. Perhaps your boyfriend broke up with you because he grew in a different direction. Economic circumstances beyond your control may have caused the company to cut back on personnel for its survival and so they laid you off. None of this means you didn’t try hard enough.
This is all about fear of how others will judge us
One of the biggest mistakes we make as human beings is to compare ourselves to others. We learned to compare from our adult guides faulty teachings about winning and losing. Insisting you didn’t want something bad enough implies someone else wanted it more and that is why they got it. The same things apply to the assertion you didn’t give it your best; this implies someone else gave their best and that is why they succeeded, and you failed. For this reason, learned to put too much value on success and treat failure as unacceptable.
When we are in this mindset, the possibility of failing fills us with anxiety thinking we might lose the approval of others. We either beat ourselves up for being incompetent, or we blame others. This is the worst thing we can do to ourselves, for this makes us ignore our opportunity to learn something important.
Failure teaches us, while success often feeds the illusion we were solely responsible for it. We are mistaken when we judge things in our lives as successes or failures without having the proper perspective. Time to reflect has taught me that my greatest “failures” have always led me to greater success. Winning and losing are immaterial, what matters is knowing every day is different and that you can only give what you have in the present time. Your real job is to keep trying and learning.
As always, wishing you a life filled with hope, love, and serenity.
Previously published here and reprinted with the author’s permission.
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