What Does it Mean to Do Your Best?

The only thing that matters is that you do your best.  The outcome is irrelevant as long as you tried as hard as you could.  We utter these phrases all the time, mostly to kids.  But what does doing your best really mean?  “Your best” is not a quantifiable unit of measure.

Doing your best is not a quantifiable unit of measure
Doing your best is not a quantifiable unit of measure

Let’s consider take a look at some examples in order to better understand this.  The following are realsituations that I have encountered over my years of being a karate instructor.

A nine-year-old student is testing for brown belt.  In the weeks leading up to the test, the student missed many classes and was clearly not practicing at home.  The overall effort the student was giving in the classes he attended was lackluster.

During the test, it is clear that the student is woefully unprepared.  He is unable to perform the majority of what is required of him.  The things he is able to do are done without any effort or purpose.  This is certainly not what is expected of a brown belt.

Once the test is completed, the student’s parents are beaming.  They hug him and tell him he did such a good job.  Both the student and the parents are clueless to how poorly the student did.  They genuinely think he did a great job.  We had a difficult conversation the next week in class when I told them how the test actually went.

This scenario is an example of one end of the spectrum.  Did this student do his best?  I would say no, but the student and his parents clearly thought he had.  Who is correct?

Doing your best looks different for different peopl
Doing your best looks different for different people

Now let’s take a look at the other end of the spectrum.  A 12-year-old black belt student is competing in sparring at a World Championship tournament.  The student trains specifically in tournament sparring over the next 6 months in addition to his regular training.  At the tournament, the student competes very well, winning 4 matches until losing the 5th and final match by one point.  The student ends up with a second-place finish.

The student is devasted.  His parents congratulate him but also tell him that next time if he works harder maybe he can get first place.  Both the student and the parents are disappointed in the second-place finish.

Did this student do his best?  I would say yes, but the student and his parents clearly thought otherwise.  Who is correct?

Doing your best has nothing to do with the outcome of what you’re doing.  It is the attitude you have throughout the process.  We all have different skill sets, different family lives, and different commitments.  Do the best you can means to try as hard as you can under your circumstances, not comparing it to others.

It also means acceptance.  If you try your best, you need to accept the outcome, regardless of what it is.  You can use the outcome to reassess how to prepare for the next time and see if you could do more or change your preparations somehow.

If there are times when you know you should have practiced but opted for video games, then you didn’t do your best.  If when performing you say to yourself, I don’t feel like doing this it is too hard, you did not do your best.

Doing your best is not about the outcome but the process
Doing your best is not about the outcome but the process

When helping kids to do their best we need to keep in mind the following things:

Balance – we want to push them, but we also need to remember that they are kids and need to do other things as well.  If you notice burnout or dejection, back off.  The process needs to be enjoyable after all and when it is no longer enjoyable, it is impossible to do your best.

Acceptance – we need to help our kids accept the outcome, whatever it may be.  Be compassionate and encouraging but don’t blow smoke up their you know what.

Honesty – make sure they do their best by telling them the truth.  If you know they were woefully unprepared for something, don’t tell them how great they did.  Be compassionate and help them learn from the experience.  By lying to them when they do poorly you only encourage poor habits.

Reality – doing your best does not automatically translate into success.  If that was the case, we would all be professional athletes, doctors, or movie stars.  Would you want to have open heart surgery from a doctor who failed his MCATs but tries his best?  There are many other factors needed for success, but we must remember that trying your best is definitely one of those.

I feel like our society is drifting towards mediocrity by telling our kids that they are the best just for trying.  Participation trophies and getting karate belts for just showing up are rampant these days.  The definition of trying is also drifting towards just showing up.

It is possible to teach kids to try their best but still do so in an encouraging, confidence boosting, compassionate way.

So, what does it mean to do your best?  If there is no doubt in your mind that you did the absolute best you could then you did.  If there is any doubt in your mind that you tried your hardest then you likely could do more.  Just remember to be honest with yourself, accept the outcome, and maintain a life balance rooted in reality.

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