For years, a common refrain in my life has been, “I’m doing the best I can.” It’s a way that I’ve encouraged myself. These words console me that, even though I may fall short. I’m doing “the best” I can, so that’s enough, right?
Recently, though, I decided that I’m not “doing the best I can” anymore, because it creates a damaging mentally which holds me back.
It finally occurred to me that when I would tell myself to “do the best I can,” I was giving myself a limit. I was thinking, This one point is my “best,” and after I think I’ve reached my “best” level of work, I don’t have to give as much effort or try as hard. And if I'm not as good as I could be, it's okay-because I'm doing my "best," which is all that matters.
Whether I was grating cheese or translating sentences into English from Latin, I would often grow irritated if others critiqued me. After all, I was doing my best! Are these people saying that my best isn’t that good? Instead of thinking about the need for continual self-improvement, I associated my “best” with perfection—or at least, with being “good enough.”
When we live by the mantra of, “I’m doing the best I can,” we can forget that growth is vital. We need to be open to improving ourselves, and to finding better ways to accomplish different tasks.
I’ve found the phrase “I’m doing the best I can” particularly dangerous now that I’m a mom. These words are very common in circles of moms. They have become a sympathetic, consoling refrain by which we reassure other women that they’re doing a great job. However, when we affirm other moms with the message of: “You’re doing the best you can,” we can find ourselves communicating the belief that “You don’t need to change anything.”
I think this is a harmful message to present to others.
I’ve found that parenting is all about change and growth as we find various ways to serve the unique needs of each child. As parents, we need the humility to examine whatever situations we’re facing (sleep training, education, discipline, or diet, to name a few) and see if what we’re doing just isn’t working—and if we need to pursue other routes for helping our children.
Instead of sending the message of “you’re doing the best you can” to other people, could we focus on the growth that comes through effort and hard work? Could we emphasize the need for humility and openness as we all seek improvement? For example:
“You’re doing a great job in your studies. If you work even harder, who knows what you can accomplish?”
“Your perseverance is admirable. I hope you find whatever situation works best for you and your family.”
I’m not doing the best I can anymore. Alternatively, I am working hard, exerting effort, and trying to become a holier, more loving wife and mother each day. I don’t feel limited by my “best” anymore, because I know that I can—and should—be growing more and more each day. I’ve found that I’m a lot more open to constructive criticism (and actually want it!), because it is not an insult to my “best,” but is rather a path to help me become a holier woman, a more loving wife, and a more fantastic mother.
Don't limit yourself. Dare to cut this little refrain of "doing the best you can" out of your life, and let yourself grow. It may be painful, it may be uncomfortable, but it will definitely be worth the effort.