My problem with “best”

As I’ve gotten older, I’m getting more irked by the idea of “personal best” (PB) or saying “do your best”. This is an issue as many parents and teachers (and schools) I know promote the idea….I’m going against the grain.

What gives?

I have 2 main reasons.

One is the problem of definition, i.e. that we never know what best really is. There is always the possibility for more or better. I know I’m not alone in thinking this, e.g.Β Professor John Hattie (Visible Learning) and Mark Pesce (the Next Billion Seconds: Framework)Β – that we can be more, especially as connected beings.

If we can’t know it, how do we know we’re doing it? Even if one is to argue about its temporal and contextual nature, I cannot be convinced that it serves any merit.

Another reason is the problem of practicality, i.e. that any one ever really does their best on everything they do. What of passion then where people supposedly give 110% (leaving the rest in the negative void)? Percentages aside, it makes sense that most people would pour much of themselves into areas of personal interest and less so on other things. This does not mean shirking responsibilities but I think it is unrealistic to demand top effort on everything all of the time.

If we always do our best on everything, are we at a higher risk of burn-out?

What then?

I have 2 suggestions.

One is to ask “Can you do better?” Corollary to that is “Will you choose to do better?” I think this approach is far more empowering, as against a consolation “it’s okay, you’ve done your best”.

Another is to allow focus choice – pursuit of passion, if that’s more your language – and chill out a little on the other things. I think this is values-based such that important matters/people are given higher priority and top effort to make good.

So what?

This is only my opinion, of course, which informs how I parent my kids or teach my students or even live my life. I am much less stressed now that I have learned to chill out and not “do my best” on everything.Β This approach has made me think a lot about my priorities.Β I am happy knowing that though I can sometimes do things better, I can choose not to because I have more important matters to attend to.

So now you see my problem with best and how I’m getting around it. πŸ™‚

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11 thoughts on “My problem with “best”

  1. Denise says:

    Malyn, your thoughts are just so refreshing. So true, we cannot humanly do “best” at all things. But the rhetoric is there. Love your honesty!

    • malyn says:

      Thanks Denise!

      Refreshing is good. I’ve had some interesting debates with good friends and educators who swear by the ‘do your best’ mentality. Because I used to adhere to it, I know that I know better now….not in a smug way, but in an enlightened way.

  2. Justin says:

    I feel the need to slightly counteract your view on doing the “best job”. Apart from peoples views of what is best and whether you can do better then the best job my conundrum is this. Sometimes when you are completing a task be it whatever it may be you believe you are doing your best at it. It is not until later on whether you yourself critically evaluate what you have done, or have discussed this with someone that you see how you may have improved what you have done. The whole hindsight is 20/20 concept shines through brightly as well as using someone else’s experience.

    As for not doing your best on everything, if everyone gave 100% every time they did something it could be a completely painful world to live in. Constantly re-adjusting figures/facts and theories and nothing would ever get done. I find that with age I have learnt to do what I am good at, make sure I experiment and try new things, but if there is something that I am truly horrible at well someone else can do it πŸ™‚

    • malyn says:

      Thanks Justin.

      I agree that hindsight does give a better view. However, I would argue that as a process, one can decide to do well (better or best, if you like) before they do it, as they do it and (as you mentioned) after they’ve done it. Some never reflect on it at all – and so what you say is important…to do better, critical reflection is important…BUT not just at the end. I WISH people will read our little discussion here as it is an important apropos to my “do better”. πŸ™‚

      Trying new things is good. Persevering is good. Knowing when to give up is good.


  3. mistea says:

    Just need to come out of google reader to leave a comment and say great post! I think this type of reasoning comes with wisdom and age.

    I understand what Justin is saying about hindsight – that is reflective thinking on what we have accomplished. I think the critical factor is to note where we might like to do better next time – or not!

    Keep sharing

    • malyn says:

      Hello hello!

      Thanks for commenting…always nice to hear from others. You’re right about the wisdom and age thing which is why I started with “as I’ve gotten older”. Our perspectives certainly change on what really is important!

      thanks for reading readers’ comments too…you might care to read my replies. πŸ™‚


  4. Jeannette James says:

    Dear Malyn,

    Would you say the intent to TRY to effectively complete tasks should the goal?
    If we had more time, money, resources we could devote our energies to “best”.
    Effort, willingness to give “it” a far go; experiment, asking for help when required are all equally important. “Doing your best” can be subjective. Often, one may feel like they are not this justice and the others are in “awe” kinda reminds me of
    Obvious to you. Amazing to others. Which is why sharing is so important! I am so glad you share!


  5. Jeannette James says:

    ….& there is a perfect example! Lol. I didn’t try my best- I didn’t proof read the post prior to submitting and we see auto correct jumping in πŸ™‚ but at least I got involved and contributed. I grow this way. Challenge is good. Even if it means not producing my best πŸ™‚ #realisticvirgo

    Ps meant to say:
    …one may feel like they are not giving their best and others are in β€œawe” kinda reminds me of obvious to you, amazing to others πŸ™‚

    • malyn says:

      But that’s the point I’m making see – it shouldn’t always be about “doing your best” because sometimes that is not necessary.

      I am glad you dropped by and commented!!!! That is more important to me than a perfectly-proofread comment that never got written because there wasn’t time or effort to do it.

      And learning is the active process of reflecting and doing better….and knowing when to ask for help or stop altogether.

      As for the video -that is one of my favourite ever….see Be Amazing post. I’m glad you know of it.

      cheers my friend. Thank you again for dropping a ray of your sunshine over here…most welcome on this dreary weather! πŸ™‚

  6. Shawn Urban says:

    This subject seems to come up periodically, and I am always confused by others’ opinons about it. I see “best” as a limitation, a self-imposed “this is as much as I am willing to do” restriction (seen as a pre-task decision). There is nothing wrong with that. As many commentators and you said, sometimes we have to choose so other things we really want to excel at enjoy our attention. This is like comments I often heard when I was a kid by adults who rushed through jobs: if you don’t want to do something, do it fast, instead of great, so you can get it out of the way and do other things (of course, they wanted to say this quickly, so their words were not this elaborate).

    On the other hand, I am a strong believer that one should build up limitlessly, rather than build to a ceiling. One’s “best” is a ceiling, let’s face it. I believe we should always grow. We should always do better each successive time. That means we should always reflect and revisit, as so many have commented here. This is why I like blogging. Usually we reflect “automatically” on familiar tasks, so we don’t have to waste too much of our time on it. No one said reflecting had to be labourious. Better after all to spend our time on video games!

    • malyn says:

      Thanks Shawn. You’re right about this topic cropping up periodically. I can see how setting an achievable “ceiling” can help with goal-setting and achievement. There’s a whole discourse in that.

      I respect the diversity in views and hope that mine is respected as well.

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