Happy Mortal

This life, well-lived.

Just Do Your Best Son.

4/31 To do your best. It’s a common enough phrase, a simple sounding goal. It’s often stated with the intent to ease the mind. As in, “don’t worry about meeting “this” or “that” overwhelming standard, just do your best.” Well I don’t know about you, but my best is much easier said than done. And the thought of just having to do my best all the time, is just as overwhelming as any other near-impossible goal I could dream up for myself.

For starters, what is my best? How do I define it? Can I even define it, or is it one of those know-it-when-I-see-it kind of a things? And further more, which best? The best I can do if I focus on only a relatively few items? Or perhaps the best at balancing many different things adequately? If I truly do my best in school will I also be able to do my best at maintaining friendships? To do my best on a paper does that mean it should be the best I can do in a couple hours one afternoon or the best I can imagine being capable of writing?

How do you decipher the difference between your best and your concept of perfection? Do you ever feel that striving to do your best limits you in any way?


  1. For a perfectionist like me, “do your best” is just a euphemism for “be perfect.” Recently, I have been able to negotiate the difference between my best and perfection by thinking of life in terms of play. I love improvisational theater. When I do improv I feel free and confident, and I am willing to take risks. So, right now I am trashing the “best” language altogether and filling my inner monologue with words like play, risk, and adventure.

  2. That is very insightful and helpful for a fellow perfectionist and improviser. I think I’m going to try it out.

  3. I just realized that I sometimes resent having to “do my best.” I’m usually NOT a perfectionist. Sometimes I have to remind myself not just to do things, but to do things well. When I do that, I’m usually happy with the results. But when faced with the idea of “doing my best,” part of me wants to yell “no!” Maybe this is my secret inner perfectionist afraid “my best” will be disappointing. In any case, I’ve found that if I ever actually do close to “my best” at something it’s not because I was trying to, but because I was trying not to do something mediocre.

  4. I’m such a perfectionist. And I come by it fairly. My mom bemoans missing one point on any paper she’s ever done for the last 29 years I’ve known her. (Yes, she is a perpetual student) I have literally made myself sick working on getting something perfect.

    I’m currently working my way through the book “The Complete Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. It’s amazing! And there’s a section in there about perfectionism that really rang true for me.

    “Perfectionism has nothing to do with getting it right. It has nothing to do with with fixing things. It has nothing to do with standards. Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move ahead. …Instead of creating freely and allowing errors to reveal themselves later as insights, we often get mired in getting the details right. We correct our originality into a uniformity that lacks passion and spontaneity….The perfectionist has married the logic side of the brain. The critic reigns supreme…To a perfectionist there is always room for improvement. The perfectionist calls this humility. In reality, it is egotism. It is pride that makes us want to write th perfect script, paint the perfect painting, perform a perfect audition monologue. Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough–that we should try again.”

    Sorry. I know that was long. But it just struck me as so interesting. It really rang true for me and pinged off something inside me. And I’m curious to see what you guys think about it.

    She finishes with the quote by Paul Gardner…”A painting is never finished. It simply stops in interesting places.” I love that.

  5. Obviously I can’t say whether you are a perfectionist or not, but I can say that I really resonate with your experience of often doing “your best” by simply trying “not to do something mediocre.” My own brand of perfectionism is actually rather hidden. You will rarely find me working as hard or nit picking about details the way a classic perfectionist might. I tend to get overwhelmed by my fear of falling short of the best before I even start – a total motivation killer resulting in work that is mediocre and shame inducing. I feel you really hit on something. Generally if I really try, I end up being pretty happy with the results, no matter how imperfect.

  6. I like the Gardner quote. Isn’t the idea of a product just so artificial? Everything is process; nothing we experience is absolutely frozen.

  7. Strikes me that doing our best is a way to maintain the illusion of usefulness. We tend to justify our existence by what we accomplish, trouble is our current iteration of society leaves us accomplishing increasing abstract things. For instance, you might have written a kick ass 300 page report that no one will ever read. The doing your best there has nothing to do with the product and everything to do with the illusion of usefulness. If you appear useful in your job, you keep it, which means that you keep getting a paycheck, which means that you can buy things.

    Purchasing power is the real usefulness in our anonymous and civic capitalism. This is problem because our desire to be useful is inherently social. We don’t want to justify ourselves by writing a report that no one will read or appreciate. We want to cook a great meal, or write a great play, or save the village from invaders, or please our sexual partner with our lovemaking skills.

    Doing our best is a concept that is split bewteen our inate social instincts and the societal abstraction that we function in today. That’s one of the reasons we struggle so much with it. It’s far easier to pour ourselves into work that “matters”, namely work whose product somehow connects us to those who benefit from it, rather than the miles of abstraction that lead to the accumulation of capital.