Isn’t that an interesting question? What does ‘doing your best’ even mean? How do you know if you’ve done your best? Is it supposed to be THE very best or the very best IN THAT MOMENT?
For example, I did some editing for a writing partner yesterday. I walked through the submission once and then once again. Did I find everything I could have found? No. But I got tired – personally tired and tired of the chapter itself. Was that my best or did I throw in the towel and decide to be satisfied with less-than-best?
In The Four Agreements, Ruiz writes, “If you always do your best there is no way you can suffer,” and “If you are doing your best you will feel good about yourself…”.
What does he mean by “suffer”? Beyond physical suffering, I think of suffering as something I can’t get away from. That nagging voice of condemnation inside me. That persistent fear of consequences. Suffering is not being able to move on – the constant fear of the falling ax.
Can we take those two statements and assess if we did our best – kind of reverse engineer the analysis?
When we think about doing our best, I think most people consider “production” – the tangible things we do. So, I’d like to start there because it’s likely the easiest to understand.
Earlier this week I put together the materials for a class I teach. I spent about two hours on this. I could have spent forty. I used three different sources. I could have used twenty. I used two examples when there were many more available to me. But is what I produced “my very best”?
Am I suffering over my final product? I must not be because until this moment, I’d not given the material any thought. There’s been no fear of axes falling.
Do I feel good about myself? I’m proud of it and I think the materials provide enough quality content without overwhelming the participants. I give some clear actionable items.
I did my very best work. Ruiz is right, I am not suffering, and I am proud of myself.
Yesterday I went on a hike with a friend. We’ve done this several Fridays in a row and I truly look forward to it. The exercise, the sunshine and fresh air, the discussion, the time with my pup, and the yummy lunch – these fuel me.
But as we’ve done these walks, I’ve learned (or re-learned) something about myself that I do not like. I talk too much, interrupt too often, follow my own little tangents. My ADD is alive and active. My father used to tell me I need to listen instead of planning my next sentence. He’s right. It’s been a problem my entire life. So, a few weeks ago, I decided to use these hikes to focus on this challenging area.
Did I do my best yesterday? Am I suffering? Am I proud of myself?
I am proud that I tried. I am not particularly proud of my success. But am I suffering? Yes, as a matter of fact, I am. I have this low-grade worry that I’m not being a good friend or that I’m the selfish me-myself-I person my parents always warned me about. A low-grade worry I’ll never improve (I’m 55 – what’s taking me so dang long?).
I guess I didn’t do my very best. I am judging myself.
Yet, I’m going to hold on to Ruiz’s promise – “Learning from your mistakes means you practice, look honestly at the results, and keep practicing”. I hike again next week, and I’ll try again.
According to The Four Agreements, my first three areas of focus are: Impeccable Words, Not Taking Things Personally, and Not Making Assumptions. Of course, these deal with interpersonal relationships, but for this analysis, I want to see if I treated myself “my very best”.
On Thursday, my book club met virtually to discuss Roxane Gay’s Hunger. During the conversation, I definitely was NOT impeccable with my words. I honestly can’t remember what I said or to whom, but even now (three days later), I’m worried I said something to offend. I know I did – I can feel it. That’s interpersonal.
But since then, I’ve been beating myself up – “You shouldn’t run that club anymore. You’re a terrible friend. A terrible person. You’ve always opened your mouth and hurt others. Shame on you.” Yikes. That’s a fair amount of self-abuse about a book club. Not very impeccable.
In the book club, one of the participants said she values when people compliment her – her selflessness, her work ethic, etc. I work with this person outside the group and I am not effusive with praise – especially praise of a personal nature. Was she talking to me? Was she telling me I’m not a good friend? Was she telling me I’m not showing my appreciation? I have taken her comment very personally and it has me on edge. I feel like I should reach out and puke some praise but then I resent that I have to do that when it’s against who I am as a person. Ugh.
In that same scenario, I am making assumptions that my friend was directing her comments/needs at me. She may have been saying she needs more positive feedback from her mother or her children or her hubby. She may have been speaking generically about her love language. Yet, I assume she was talking about me and that has me in a selfish spiral of turmoil.
Isn’t it amazing what we uncover when we sit back and re-look at something? If I’m still worried about this, I can reach out, ask questions. “We make all sorts of assumptions because we don’t have the courage to ask questions.” Right now, I don’t have that courage but give me a day or two.
I think I’ve always known when I don’t do my best. It’s a feeling, isn’t it? Kind of a guilt. The level of guilt varies based on how far I veered from best. Doing this reverse analysis is very helpful – more helpful than I expected.
In the past, I would have felt guilty for failing in my attempt to listen before thinking. I would have said, “I will never be better at this. I will always be selfish.” But you know what? Just the fact that I’m thinking about this – noticing – “honestly looking” – means I am already better. If I keep practicing, one day I’ll be able to say, “I did my best”.
Ruiz says, “…you need to focus on what it is that you want to change.”
I want to focus on being in the moment with my friends – not thinking ahead. Listen, then think, then respond.
This is what I will keep practicing. This is where I will work hard to “do my best”.
“You can have many great ideas in your head but what makes the difference is action.”
I interpret this quote to mean, again, I have to be intentional to make changes. I can’t just assume that because I want to stay in the moment, I will. What actions, then, can I put into place to be more present with friends and colleagues?
First, I can step away from distractions. This morning I was talking with my brother. I started the conversation sitting at my desk with my email up and my phone next to me. Sure enough, I realized I was half-listening because an email popped up. I caught myself (success!) and moved away from any distractions. That helped a lot.
When I can’t move away? Doodling helps but it’s distracting to others and can appear to be disrespectful. Although doodling helps me focus, to others it might appear that I’m checking out. So, if doodling is not the answer and moving away from distractions isn’t realistic, what can I do? Some will say to ‘look people in the eye’. I’ve found that to be more distracting and a little weird.
What I can do is keep this issue in front of my mind and start to try different things. For example, I get distracted when my husband starts to talk about sports or politics or work problems. But, like my hiking buddy, I want him to feel valued and know that I care about what he cares about. This week I will practice different ways to stay present.
Some ideas I’ll try:
I’m hopeful I can find other strategies since I’m willing to pay attention.
Admittedly, this is going to be an area of struggle. It’s been an area of struggle for 55 years. Yet I’m encouraged because what “makes the difference is action”. I am putting something into action. Only by acting and “honestly looking at the results” can I ever hope “to do my very best”.
The Four Agreements has challenged me in many ways. I’ll finish up my discussion of this book next week but I’m very glad I read it. I believe if I can keep The Four Agreements in my consciousness, I’ll have a wonderfully rewarding 2021 and beyond.
As I started to write this particular blog, I had a bad feeling it could be the most rambling blog I’ve written - but as I started writing, it all began to fall into place. At least for me. For you, I may have ‘chased something shiny’.
All quotes are taken from The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
When have you done your very best in recent days? How do you know it was your best?
What one area can use some improvement? What actions can you take to ensure you do your very best?
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