"Do Your Best" and Other Little Words That Changed My Life
Updated: May 28
There are few pieces of advice I have come across in my lifetime that have burst through the floodgates of my soul quite like this has:
"Always do your best."
I have been swimming in self-forgiveness and overwhelming inner peace ever since I read this, one of don Miguel Ruiz’s, “The Four Agreements." For the record, I found all four Agreements to be applicable. But this one, in particular, really struck a chord.
I have never felt so light and so free.
I am a mom. So not unlike most moms, I have been laden with feelings of guilt and inadequacy. I’ve tried so hard to be the mom I imagined I would be ten years ago, before a high-risk pregnancy, life in the NICU, raising triplet boys and postpartum depression and post-traumatic stress. I am not unlike any of you, with your premature (and naive) forethought about motherhood and your real-life (likely perceived) shortcomings. My internal struggles are not unique. I often fall short on those expectations and for a long time beat myself over it. I’ve judged myself and let others judge me. I’ve allowed myself to feel guilty and inadequate and tormented myself for being, well, human – with all of my imperfections. The list of things I have felt guilty for runs a mile long.
I gave up breastfeeding when my preemies were only three months old. Guilty.
I have let my babies cry. Guilty
I lose my patience. Guilty
I avoid things that are too hard. Guilty
I skip out on responsibility sometimes. Guilty.
I do not have the energy to keep up with my life. Guilty.
I get angry. Guilty.
I am really anxious and imagine crazy shit. Guilty
I need a break. A LOT. Guilty
My house is NEVER clean. Guilty
And the list goes on.
Guilt is so heavy. And I was feeling weighed down for quite some time. Until I read "The Four Agreements" and I had the biggest “ah hah” moment of my life. The light bulb didn’t go off right away though. “Do your best...” at face value didn’t sound like anything new or earth-shattering. Until I looked a little deeper and applied it to my own life.
It’s like I had uncovered the secret to my life’s greatest mystery – how to be free from feelings of guilt and judgment. My mind was blown. The weight was lifted.
Ruiz reminds us that our best changes from moment to moment and over time. Think about it, our capacity and abilities are influenced by so many factors, therefore, so is our best. My best at keeping a clean house is way different today than it was when it was virtually one of my only real responsibilities. I have had bronchitis four times this year, my best definitely looked different during these episodes. This realization has allowed me to give myself some grace and holy crap it is freeing.
Consider the resources you have available to you before you go judging yourself for not doing your best. Are they in abundance? Or are life stressors like health, financial, relationship, and/or family issues depleting your personal resources? Your best is influenced by all of these things – so consider how your resources (or lack thereof) play a part. And give yourself some credit.
Do your best – no more, no less. Where are my overachievers?! This one is for you.
Don't overdo it. You know, try to do better than your best. Because the truth is, you can’t. That is why it is called your best; you can’t do better than your best. So, stop trying.
"When you overdo you deplete your body..." (Ruiz, https://www.miguelruiz.com/the-four-agreements)
Remember the last time you pushed yourself too hard? What was the result? For me, it is always that I end up sick or so overtired that my best for the next several days, sometimes weeks, sucks. So, trying to do more than your best often results in a diminished best later. That isn’t going to get you any closer to your goal, now is it?
While this isn’t really an example of some deep guilt-producing decision, I think it illustrates well the idea that our best changes and overdoing it is a bad idea. I recently took up horseback riding again after being a competitive jumper in high school. So, 20 something years ago. Not shortly after starting again I decided to push myself and do something stupid and got myself thrown off.
My not-so-in-shape, nearly 40 year-old body, went flying over the horse's head and through the air. I hit the ground like it was a cement wall and I was a wrecking ball. I was lucky I didn't break my neck. But I am still paying the price physically. Not my brightest moment… but I vowed then to not overdo it again, at least when it came to riding. I realized my days of recklessness and carefree teenagerhood were long gone. My body wasn't as forgiving. Now, [sadly] my physical best is more like a walk around the block, not rodeo riding through the woods. I have come to terms with that.
Another way this idea has helped me is it think about what my best even means. Are the expectations of myself those that I have made for myself? Or are they the expectations of someone else, or society at large? I recognize that I am the only one who knows my best. I am the only one who can set the parameters for my best. If I am only concerned about doing my personal best, I stay truer to my intentions and stop worrying about how my best compares to others.
The Agreement is to do YOUR best. Not THE best. Because, really is there any such thing?
This Agreement isn’t about dodging responsibility or trying to make excuses for crappy behavior – there are moments I am not proud of, times when I know I didn’t do my best. All the others though, I am forgiving myself for.
When my boys were probably just two years old one of them got really sick. At the time I was dealing with crippling anxiety and illness was a major trigger for me. We ended up in the hospital and I did not handle it well. I was alone and my baby was miserable. He had tiny little veins and was dehydrated so the nurses had a terrible time getting his IV in. After the fourth or fifth stick I almost lost it. I became agitated, impatient, neurotic, and really distraught. I was not pleasant, and I know that.
While I wish I could have handled it better, I now understand that given my limited emotional resources and both the internal and external stressors I was facing, I did my best. And I am able to forgive myself. That forgiveness has opened up my mind and heart and I have also been able to give myself credit for all the positive things I did do in that situation. I was an advocate for my child. I held him, I cared for him and I felt the deepest level of empathy I have ever felt, for him. I did my best. That, I can be proud of.
So, the next time you feel compelled to judge yourself or feel badly about something you did or didn’t do, open your heart and mind. Take inventory of your resources and recognize that your best is good enough. So let go of self-doubt and judgment and be set free, my friend.