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Not actually my very best.

I had almost decided not to write about this, and then it came up in conversation with Janni over on her lj. So here we are.

One of the things adults tell kids a lot is, “As long as you did your best! You just need to always do your best!” And I get why. What they mean is, “My love for you is not tied to the results of any particular task. You can’t get everything perfect the first time you try, and that’s no reason not to try. Hard work is important. You don’t always know when you’re 4 or 5 or 15 or 25 what skills and knowledge will be useful later; don’t dismiss them too quickly.” But what they say is “As long as you did your best! Always do your best!”

I believe that figuring out what to do your best on and what to half-ass is a major adult skill.

I believe that sometimes only giving 50 or even 20 percent is a contributor to sanity in human beings.

Last night I made a perfectly nice dinner. It was Spanish rice, bison andouille, and roasted wax beans. The andouille is from that really good free range bison place, the Spanish rice had a lot of real saffron and fresh garlic and the right kind of Hungarian paprika, and the wax beans were from the farmer’s market, very fresh, very tasty. It was good stuff. But honestly? It was all stuff I’d made before, and it didn’t use up anything immediately perishable completely (there’s still at least one more serving of wax beans in there). Not full points for creativity or for efficiency of produce use.

But it sounded good, and I did not have a lot of energy last night. Still don’t. So: time not to give 110%. Time not to do my very best. We all got fed with nutritious food we had on hand. Hurrah go team; call it a day.

I have been making a lot more excellent breakfasts this summer. I have been making a lot more breakfasts that wow me. But I am also noticing the effort that takes, and even those wow breakfasts are not always new wow breakfasts. Because going the extra mile every day (or, more realistically, every time I’ve used up the previous wow breakfast) is just not possible. I am not writing a breakfast cookbook. I am not running a breakfast restaurant. Sometimes it’s a good idea to strive for just that one step better, for a variety of breakfasts that are better than just okay. But there are other things on the list, and there always will be.

My friends who are parents will not thank me for telling their kids this, but I do tell their kids this: I got an A in Bible-as-literature in college, and I firmly believe that cutting 66.7% of the classes was instrumental in getting me that A. It gave me more time to sleep (important), and to think about my other classes (important) and the writing I was trying to do around my other classes (also important) and the relationships I was forming with the people around me (seriously important). But Bible with the professor I got stuck with that semester (not the professor I signed up for!) was not only not a class that was going to require my very best–it was not a class that would reward my very best. And if I’d shown up for more than one of the three class sessions a week, I would have engaged with the professor, and I am not at all sure that would have gone well. So I did enough to get by, and I did get by. Excelsior.

I believe in hard work on things that reward hard work. I believe in priorities. I also believe that you can never get the priorities just absolutely perfect so that you have it all worked out, because one of the priorities is going to have to be attentiveness to variables. So no, you don’t want to half-ass your novel submissions. You don’t want to phone it in with your relationship with your partners or children or both. But giving your very best? Every day, in every way? Nope. Not going to happen. Shouldn’t happen. Take deep breaths and accept that the arrangement of your sock drawer is probably not at its pinnacle of excellence. That’s as it should be.

Unless you decided to make the sock drawer your thing today, in which case, well, rock on with your bad self, as we used to say in the mists of the ’90s.

2 thoughts on “Not actually my very best.

  1. Nicely articulated. The problem I see in my students is the lack of progress towards figuring out when to do their best. It’s not that I expect them to be there at 18, it’s that I hope they are closer when they are 22.

    1. Right, the goal is that they will evaluate the results of what they did and decide how closely aligned those results were with their effort–and to evaluate accurately how much more effort they actually had available. The self-awareness fairy does not visit as often as one might like.

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