“Thanks for bringing your best today and your best is always enough.” That is what my hot pilates instructor would say at the end of each workout. She would also sometimes say, “it doesn’t matter how you did yesterday or what you will do tomorrow as long as you did your best today with what you brought with you”. I love my hot pilates studio, not only for the really hot sweaty intense workouts, but also this message being reinforced to me at the end of the workouts. Somedays I am slower in my burpees or less stable in my planks, but after hearing that message, I always congratulate myself for making it through the workout (high fiving myself and those sitting by me) and go home feeling quite accomplished.
But how do I know I have really done “my best” at the pilates workout this morning or in any other tasks I have at work or in my personal life? What does “doing my best” actually mean? Though it may be different for others, I believe “doing my best” means trying hard at accomplishing a certain task or goal with whatever resources, talent and energy I have at that time. “Doing my best” does not have to mean that I do whatever it takes to get something done if “whatever it takes” may be harmful to me or others or may take a major toll on me in the long run, such as constantly giving up my precious sleep to work late into the night, alienating my family or friends because I could never find any time for them, shouldering all the burdens myself so I do not look weak or incapable to others, or in the case of my mountaineering escapades, endangering my safety because I have to reach the summit of a mountain despite knowing a dangerous storm is rolling in.
Doing your best sometimes does involve some sacrifices and a bit of suffering. Some of you may know that I like doing marathons (don’t ask me why!). If I want to finish a marathon successfully, I would often do “my best” to make it to the finish line, including giving up some late-night socializing with friends to wake up early to train, have band aids ready for the blisters that I will probably get on race day, and be mentally prepared for my feet hurting from all the pounding on the pavement when I reach mile 20. But whether I actually make it to the finish line, I would have given it my best or more correctly, I would have given it my reasonable best. If during the race, I start to feel dizzy, I will do my best to try and recover from the dizziness by hydrating more (in case I am dehydrated), taking in more nutrition (in case I am bonking), and even sitting down in the shade for a little bit (in case I am overheating). If the dizziness did not go away after I tried all these things and a few other possible remedies, I will give myself permission to be reasonable to myself and quit the race. Would forcing my body in that stage to make it to the end be worth it when it could really harm me? My answer would be a “no” because it would not be reasonable to do that to myself. We always forget that we need to be kind to ourselves. I know I will be disappointed that I did not finish this one race, but I also know that there will always be another marathon I can run when I am not encountering this particular problem, and I know I can finish it another time, crossing the finish line full of smiles then.
“Doing my best” also means adopting the mindset from the start that I will not be crushed or feel like a failure when I did not actually do it perfectly or if I was not able to complete it if I knew I had given it an honest good effort with what I had.
As a lawyer, I sometimes review contracts for my clients where if the contract imposes an obligation on my client to use its “best efforts” to perform a task, I will change that obligation to having my client using its “commercially reasonable efforts” or “reasonable best efforts” instead. The key word here is reasonable. I would not want my client to have to bankrupt itself just to complete an obligation. Similarly, I do not want to bankrupt myself in my resources and energy when I do my best.
Like most of you, I have so many demands pulling me in every which way on a daily basis. I naturally want to do a perfect job, not just an ok attempt, at all the things that land on my plate, but I know that is not realistic and by doing so, I am just inviting trouble for myself. It does not mean I give myself permission to be sloppy in completing any tasks. Rather, I try to set realistic goals, prioritize the demands, tackle them as best as I reasonably can one at a time, ask for help if that makes sense, give myself a pat on the back when I successfully complete a task, and then never ever beat myself up for failing to meet a goal but to try and learn from my failure – asking myself what went wrong, how can I do it better next time and whether it even matters if I never complete that goal?
I truly believe that we can still move mountains by giving our reasonable best. We will still aim to excel in what we do but we are not “less than” when we give ourselves permission to not be perfect in everything we do.
Thanks hot pilates instructor for your wise words at the end of each workout. I fully embrace what you say with a slight modifier for me: “Thanks for bringing your reasonable best today and your reasonable best is always enough.” Namaste.
Susan Seah, Founder & CEO
The Koa Club
Be Brave. Be Koa