Erroneous Belief #9 states that:
YOU MUST ALWAYS DO YOUR BEST
How many times have we all heard that, from our parents, grandparents and teachers? And how many times have we been disappointed when we “did our best” but didn’t win the race, didn’t get good grades, failed at something?
Isn’t it better to just turn up and enjoy the experience, no matter what the context is? Or the outcome, for that matter? If we keep placing impossibly high goals in front of ourselves, we’re only going to experience disappointment when we don’t reach those goals. Don’t let yourself be controlled by externally imposed achievement levels.
The Kid isn’t sports-mad, unlike most of his schoolmates. He’d rather play Minecraft on his computer. So, when he tells me he hates Physical Education (P.E), I tell him not to look at it as a competitive event, where he feels he has to “give his best” to win the race or beat the other team, but instead to just participate in whatever activities there are, and enjoy his time doing them. He doesn’t have to be the best ball player, or the fastest runner, the best catcher or thrower, he just has to show up and take part.
Last term The Kid’s school had a cross-country run, which was conducted over several days, with one day designated to every Year. The Kid is currently in Year 7, the first year of High School. He knew he didn’t stand a chance of winning the race, so instead he made a pact with his friend Eddie, to tie for the position of last place. Now, that may seem defeatist, and no doubt the teachers might have told them both off for not doing their best, but I didn’t berate The Kid when he told me what he’d done. Instead, I said he and Eddie had practised creativity and turned what must have been a boring sports event that neither had any interest in, into something fun that they could do. They both still got badges for participating and finishing the race, anyway.
Adopting a “You must always do your best” attitude to everything you do is really tiring. It isn’t what humans are meant to be doing, anyway. Rather, it’s something that Society tries to make us believe that we must do. Maybe it’s well-meaning, but ill-phrased, maybe that’s what’s essentially wrong with that saying. Perhaps, instead of saying “You must always do your best”, we could try saying “Turn up and enjoy the experience”, and then if you win the race or contest, that’s just the icing on the cake. If you didn’t win, well, you still had cake, didn’t you?
We shouldn’t live thinking that everything we do or say is being assessed or tested by Society, our elders, our employers, our social circles. There is nothing more inauthentic than a life lived according to the rules of others, of having to do what traditions or religion dictate, even when your Soul feels differently. If you are different, in any way, that difference should be celebrated as your uniqueness, not shoehorned into some readymade box where everyone else is. “You must always do your best” does not create uniqueness, instead it creates the sense that everyone must aspire to exactly the same thing, reach the same heights of achievement, and therefore everyone must accept disappointment as a way of life. “You must always do your best” stifles creativity and misdirects our personal goals, it makes the result or outcome take precedence over the actual act of doing something.
In other words, it takes the fun out of everything we do.
The Kid told me about “High Expectation Asian Father” memes on the Internet, so I had a look for myself today. As an Asian, I can totally relate to the memes, which, while terribly funny, are also very true of a typical Asian father’s expectations of his offspring. I know, I’ve been at the receiving end many times!