Last night I was thinking about the phrase “I tried my best.” Or, alternatively, “I’m trying my best.”
How can anyone ever possibly know what their “best” is?
That’s sort of a rhetorical question, but also a legitimate one. I can think of times where I’ve tried very hard, but have I tried my best? Have I really pushed myself to the very limits of what I can do?
I look back on certain times in my life, and I think, I was trying so hard; but did I try my best?
At one point when I was suffering from serious depression, I felt like I was trying so hard, I might break. I kept at my recovery with my doctor and therapist. Eventually I made a breakthrough and learned things I still put into practice today. That was one of a handful of times I might have tried my hardest.
But was it my best?
Who can say? I’m not even sure I can.
Another point in my life, I was dealing with both doing something I had dreamed about for over a decade, and crazy anxiety about doing it. I resorted to taking beta blockers to get through it so I could function as well as could be expected. I sometimes wonder how I would have fared had I nixed the beta blockers and just tried as hard as I could. I’ll never know, but I know I was trying very hard, regardless.
Again, was it my best? Probably not.
“Best” is such a funny term anyway. It’s generally subjective and often used hyperbolically. But if I really think about trying, and trying as hard as I can, I always think I could try a little harder.
I’ve never been one to use phrases like “Give it 110%.” That doesn’t even make sense. You can’t give more than you have. But I also don’t know how any one person can know what their capacity is. I suppose, in essence, I don’t think anyone can ever truly do their best, for there is always something else one can do. Isn’t there?
This isn’t a judgement on others of what they can, or can’t, do. This is a yardstick by which I measure myself. No matter how hard I try, I know I could always try a little harder.
For some years now, I’ve been writing. I try. Sometimes I try harder than others. Recently I committed to trying even harder. Am I trying my best? Hardly. Am I trying? Yes. Am I trying very hard? Maybe? I can’t tell you the number of times I feel like I’m forcing myself to write, but somehow I manage it, and keep on trucking. No matter how many or how few people read what I write, I keep on trucking. If I don’t keep trying, I stagnate. I can’t have that. I can’t give up on myself.
That’s trying. I’m not sure it’s trying hard and it certainly isn’t trying my “best,” but it’s trying.
Can you ever actually know you did your best? How would you even measure that? I think efforts can be measured in successes (“I did enough to complete the task or requirements”), but I feel like, for me, it’s an endless loop of questions where the answer is always that I could do more or do better.
I don’t know if that’s comforting or terrifying. I suppose it’s a little of both.
I will have to satiate myself with trying hard. I’d love to say I’m trying as hard as I can, but I know that’s not true. And even if I never quite find the barometer of my efforts, I hope to one day have a better understanding of what my best looks like.
And I hope to find it before I’m too old to appreciate it and take advantage of my own efforts.
I’ve decided in cases where I don’t know what image to use for a piece, I’m going to dig out older photos of myself from the archives for giggles. The image at the top of this piece is a modified version of the image below from 2009:
I like the colors in both, but felt the blue tones suited my subject matter better. It also reminded me that a friend from the Game Informer community made me the following picture based on the modified one:
Sincere indefinite horror. I love it.
I’ve never really dwelt on it, but I suppose I would see this in the same way I would look at the concept of perfection.
Perfection – or trying literally the best you can at a given thing – is a goalpost that is always moving. You can always pursue it, but it’s not an end that can actually be met.
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There is no limit to what your best can be – only to what your best has been.
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I was actually thinking about this exact thing. Like, I ran that race in X amount of time. That was my personal best. I may exceed it in the future, but as soon as I achieve it, it’s in the past. So my best is once again in the past even though the future always holds the possibility to achieve it once more.
There’s that vicious cycle of improvement again! I am stuck in it!
That’s sort of how I feel about it, although we are coming at it with different words.
For me, I feel like no matter how hard I were to try, I would never consider it my best, even if I made that “goal.” I would just think, “Wow! What a neat thing I’ve done!” And then immediately focus on doing better.
A vicious cycle of improvement!
This is where I cite Adam Carolla’s infamous words of, “Don’t do YOUR best… do MY best.” The idea being that the yard stick is established against a higher “rank” than one’s own or their peers of a similar level. If they can satisfy or make an honest comparison of work/effort that would meet those standards against one of “higher rank” (or a position you aspire to be in), an individual can go to sleep knowing that they are both on the right track, and are performing at, or better, than the standard expected from them.
It takes time to figure it out, but both Adam and Dr. Drew note that “I tried my best” when failing is an awful signal to send to others, as this means that your best is not of any quality. With that in mind, they also try to instill in listeners about the act of admitting a failure, and learning from it for next time to meet any future endeavor with success.
It’s all very cyclical with other aspects they discuss, but I find it to be very true the more time goes on. It sounds like you have a similar mindset in that you do very well, accept it, and go for broke again simply because it’s not in your nature/character to be satisfied with completing the bare minimum. My gf is currently having issues with that on her auditing teams, as many don’t even do “good” work, but still expect the rewards like bonuses and raises :-/
For myself, I try to go for broke with everything, and then “compare notes” on how to get even better with people I see as a higher echelon. Even if I failed, I can at least know that it wasn’t truly my best, because there’s someone else who’s “best” was what I needed to be at. (Wow, talk about an anecdote… I should be a high school football coach lol.)
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I’m glad you have such a strong idea of what your best is! I compare myself against others more often than I’d like (I know in some cases it’s a no-win situation), but when the chips are down, it’s what I think of my own efforts that I judge myself on.
Hey! Maybe you SHOULD be a coach! :)
A few things:
a) VERY SMART to stare that Boo in the face in the last picture so he can’t attack.
b) Hindsight is the ripper, amirite? I have many areas in my life where I’ve failed at xyz or didn’t achieve xyz and you look back and thing of all these ways you could have done more, handled it better, been smarter, etc etc. It isn’t hard to see that stuff, and it can be a big downer. It’s medium difficulty to take the right lessons from looking back on things. It’s expert difficulty to actively apply those lessons to NEW situations, which is where most people, including myself, stall out frequently.
c) You’re someone that puts in A LOT of effort into things you care about. I admire that a lot about you. It may not get you what you want, or it may not even be directed in the right place, but you do the work. Nobody can deny that or take that away from you.
d) When I was younger, I thought Dr. Drew was the smartest person alive and Adam Carolla was a huge dickhead troll. Now I’ve realized Dr. Drew is sort of a hustler tool, and Adam Carolla has been dead on right about nearly everything. He’s crude, but wise.
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Ugh, you’re not kidding. You can always gauge what your best WAS (e.g.: that was my best time yet in a race), but almost never in the moment can the same be said.
I do…but I’m not sure ultimately where that gets me. As for my efforts not being in the right place, I’m sure you’re right; I’ve not managed to make writing my job and I’ve been ultimately working towards that goal for years.
It’s been well over a decade since I’ve come across an episode of Loveline. I take your (and Alex’s, above) word on it!
A very interesting & introspective look into the making of who Rebekah Lang is & what makes you “tick”. For a better word choice, what keeps you going. It’s always good to know the person behind the piece. This gives us a small “insight” into who you are. Thanks for sharing such intimate details into you being “you”.
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Aw, thank you, Richard!
I would agree with the sentiment that “your best” is a degree of effort that is always judged through the comparison of past achievements and future expectations. You can never truly know what your best is because there are always variables, that when changed, could lead to higher levels of success. That is in part, a daunting thought but it is also the thought that drives us to pursue progress and growth. Ultimately though, in doing so it is important to balance the effort we put in with the amount off fulfillment that we take out. To do your best is only healthy when you focus on goals that are rewarding in their own right as opposed to simply being rewarding because they are “better” than what has come before.
I guess this line of thinking sort of goes with the old saying that the journey matters just as much as the destination itself. To me, our efforts, achievements, and the experience that ties them all together matters more than any quantifiable measure of “our best”.
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Isn’t it interesting that it’s still such a weird and subjective thing? “Best” can mean so many things to so many people. But I agree with you about the journey part for sure. It’s just hard to see that in the moment, sometimes.
This was a very interesting read. I’m not sure I could define what my “best” has been on a given endeavor, but there are plenty of times I’ve felt I could do more or better. I think you really nailed the part about trying and how just doing something, whether it’s your best effort or not in hindsight, and believing in yourself is the most important thing.
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Well thank you! Isn’t it weird? Like once you try to define it, it gets more and more slippery. The more I think about it, the more confusing it seems.
But I really do think that believing in oneself is so important.