?

Log in

Not actually my very best. - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

[ website | My Website ]
[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

Not actually my very best. [Aug. 21st, 2013|08:49 pm]
Marissa Lingen

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.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

LinkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: batwrangler
2013-08-22 02:18 am (UTC)
Excellent observations. A related thing that I find difficult is determining what constitutes "best" effort. If you don't push yourself to collapse and beyond, have you really given it your best? I wish I'd established baselines for "perfectly reasonable, honest, good try" efforts and "best that time and circumstances allow, let's move on" efforts, and "this should not be a case of driving yourself to exhaustion, we can stop now" efforts when I was younger. (Why is it so often difficult to recognize the point of diminished returns?)
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-08-22 11:28 am (UTC)
I think maybe because you have to make the decisions about diminished returns just when you're getting tired and losing perspective?

I love cooking. But my least favorite thing about cooking is that you often have to do it when you're hungry, and that's the very worst time for cooking.

Hey. I have just figured out one of the things I love about baking. Cool.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: buymeaclue
2013-08-22 11:30 am (UTC)
I wish I'd established baselines for "perfectly reasonable, honest, good try" efforts and "best that time and circumstances allow, let's move on" efforts, and "this should not be a case of driving yourself to exhaustion, we can stop now" efforts when I was younger.

Yesssss to this (as well as to Mris's post!), and also a tangent: I see so much frustration and disappointment from folks who are getting "reasonable honest effort" results in return for the "reasonable honest effort" they're putting in...but are so committed to the idea of always doing their best that they can't or won't see anything more (or even just anything different) that they could be doing.

And maybe there indeed isn't anything, or maybe there is but it isn't feasible or desirable for all sorts of good reasons, in which case: as you say.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-08-22 11:38 am (UTC)
Yes--unfortunately if this plays out wrong, one of the casualties can be internal honesty. I am really glad that no one has leapt in to reassure me that the dinner I made Tuesday night really does somehow count as doing my best--because it doesn't, and it's okay that it doesn't. It's very much a reasonable honest effort results for reasonable honest effort situation. And it's useful that I keep that in mind.

When the Year of Sick kicked off all this vertigo fun, one of the things I had to learn was that it was okay for me to not put effort into dinner we were serving for people, especially if it meant that I could do nothing else that day. Having markgritter order and pick up pizza for the godkids and then eating ice cream timprov had gotten from the store did not have to represent putting my best foot forward. It was okay if my best foot was curled up under me on the couch and I had energy to do other things that week.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: sheff_dogs
2013-08-22 02:02 pm (UTC)
Yes yes yes!

Thank you for the original post, but all the comments in this threadchime for me.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: tiger_spot
2013-08-22 03:02 am (UTC)
Amen, heartily seconded, THIS, huzzah.

Yes that thing. I think that is the most valuable thing I took away from my last job, was learning how not to care, when caring is not helpful.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: fidelioscabinet
2013-08-22 03:07 am (UTC)
Amen.
Words to leave by, even.

Set your priorities. Pick your battles. Know your limits. </p>

Because knowing whether it's worth dying on a particular rock is a matter of great importance. Some rocks just aren't worth it.

(Reply) (Thread)
From: coffeesvp
2013-08-22 03:20 am (UTC)
Be not righteous overmuch; neither make thyself overwise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself? Ecc. 7:16. Please forgive me for quoting another Bible proverb, but your thoughts are an astute exposition of its meaning, and very wise.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-08-22 11:29 am (UTC)
I never get offended by people quoting the Bible (or other texts, when it comes to that). I get offended by people misquoting the Bible or trying to use it is a blunt weapon counter to its purpose, but your quotes are so very not that.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: coffeesvp
2013-08-22 02:06 pm (UTC)
Another quotation your entry brought to mind was by famous computer programmer on optimizing code: “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can put off forever.”
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: diatryma
2013-08-22 04:03 am (UTC)
One of my prouder moments of college was during junior year when several hours' work on a Spanish paper disappeared when I tried to save it the final time. I emailed the professor and said, "Hi there, the computer ate my paper. It's 5pm and I have a Physio test tomorrow as well as turning in your final paper, so that's not going to happen. Could I have an hour after class to work on this? Because while I could technically get the work back, I have other things on my list tonight."
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: swan_tower
2013-08-23 11:40 pm (UTC)
I hope your professor said "sure." Because that is a very sane and adult way of handling the problem, and deserved to be treated as such.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: blue_hat_guru
2013-08-22 05:00 am (UTC)
Very true.

Though, I've noticed that children running out of effort (at least before bedtime, and often for a significant period after) is rarely a significant difficulty.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: blue_hat_guru
2013-08-22 05:07 am (UTC)
And now to wave my geek flag: perhaps we should use the "do your best" metric for overall effort and outcome, as opposed to any one specific event.

Of course this would imply certain critical specific events, but others must be sacrificed or reduced for the greater cause.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-08-22 11:31 am (UTC)
Right, and while it's true that some things are a great deal more important than others, I think a lot of adults don't want to trust kids to pick which is which.

Which is foolish; kids are not dumb, and they learn from experience, and when it's their effort, they're going to have to make that choice somehow. Providing assistance and guidance is better than making general rules that don't work very well.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-08-22 11:34 am (UTC)
I'm going to have to disagree. Many times have I spotted a kid who is still able to do stuff but has lost focus and ability to cope with new variables.

When my godson was a toddler, and then when his sister my goddaughter was, they would pull the trick of walking in circles in my library to keep themselves awake so they wouldn't miss anything. Cuddling one of their parents or godparents might lead to sleep! Do not want! But they basically had the available effort to put one foot in front of another and that was it. If I'd tried to talk to them about magnets or asked them to color a picture, they would have burst into tears. Completely out of effort.

Edited at 2013-08-22 11:34 am (UTC)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: blythe025
2013-08-22 05:03 am (UTC)
Agreed! And thank you.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: thoughtdancer
2013-08-22 12:00 pm (UTC)
When I was a teacher, and when I could, I would tell my students just this sort of message. Seriously, if someone's acing my class, and struggling in Calc, or needing to go to work to pay for school, or such, I would even encourage that person to skip my class.

That would leave me the students who needed my help, which meant they could get more of my help, and it would enable students to think for themselves about what the best ways to spend their time would be, which is a vital skill.

Then my administration got wind of what I was doing, and, well, I got talked to. Policies even were re-written. Attendance was required, and the college took another step towards being just more of the worst of high school.

Hard work can be useful, but it's often not. Smart work is good. There's a difference, and we should teach it.

Good on you for teaching sense.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: sheff_dogs
2013-08-22 02:06 pm (UTC)
I know in the UK we would do a lot better trusting our teachers about judgements like these, sounds like you have exactly the same problems in the US.

Edited at 2013-08-22 02:06 pm (UTC)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: hobbitbabe
2013-08-22 02:02 pm (UTC)
My university students were always shocked when I acknowledged that optimising is a valid choice. They would apologize to me for not doing something of mine completely or putting more effort into it, and I would explain that I don't take it personally and they don't need to apologise, and I would also affirm their totally appropriate decision to optimise - meaning make good decisions overall about what to spend the time and energy on and when to stop.

The other thing I've experienced and seen about why "do your best" isn't helpful is that people who have internalised that motto sometimes find it hard to accept, in themselves and others, that people are doing what they can at that particular time. I'm thinking of in sports, where I don't think it's a useful thing to say to children - it sounds like the adult coach/fan is suggesting that the kid isn't doing his or her best right now, but they probably don't know what else is on the kid's mind, how the kid is feeling, etc, and the kid is probably doing what he or she is capable of right now.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: moiread
2013-08-22 04:29 pm (UTC)
Very yes. Prioritizing effort has been essential to my adult life with disabilities, dear God. I know some people who just can't seem to help trying to throw themselves at anything and everything 110%, burnout and frustration be damned, and I find just watching that exhausting.

Edited at 2013-08-22 04:36 pm (UTC)
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: thanate
2013-08-22 05:21 pm (UTC)
My family has several variants on "better is the enemy of good enough." These were particularly relevant to my father's habit of massively overbuilding woodworking projects.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: cakmpls
2013-08-22 11:46 pm (UTC)
I think that much (a lot? most?) of the time, what a person actually does is their best. It may not be the best they could have done on another day, in a different place, or under other circumstances, but when all aspects of life are taken into consideration, it was in fact the best they could do right then, right there, in that exact situation.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: dichroic
2013-08-23 05:21 am (UTC)
The other thing is that always doing your best keeps you from doing other things, and so,e of those things are worth doing. I had in mi pond my experiences of doing lots of sports badly, but it even fits your dinner example. With limited energy available, it's you'd done something fancy with the meat, you might not have managed to make the other things and have a balanced meal - and some of us like side dishes. (Actually anything fancy I can think of to do with andouille is inherently balanced, like jambalaya, but work with me here.)
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-08-23 12:45 pm (UTC)
Well, it's me, so it would have been more likely that I would have optimized the wax beans and made no main dish. But that doesn't negate the point.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: tesla_aldrich
2013-08-23 07:24 am (UTC)
I would humbly submit that one of the core problems of parenting in 21st century America is that it appears to be aimed at creating better adolescents (i.e. people with limited autonomy who are still basically in thrall to someone), not at creating better adults. In my experience, adulthood requires either 1) optimization; 2) underachievement; or 3) unhappiness. 2 and 3 don't sound that great to me.

(One example that drives me a little nuts is how parenting books suggest giving your child a feeling of agency. To which I say, "No, no, no! They don't need a *feeling* of agency - they need agency.")

I wish to surround my son with influences like yourself.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2013-08-23 12:45 pm (UTC)
Thanks.

And good heavens, yes. My folks and I have talked about this before--about how I got more responsibility each year, so that when I did leave home, I had had practice with making actual decisions and generally taking care of myself, rather than having it all dumped on me.

(This process is, I think, part of what led me to be able to say, at 14, that we needed to speed up the timeline by a year. Because I could look logically at what was ahead at my particular high school and see that it was the wrong thing for me--and could lay it all out for my folks and convince them logically, and then have them as my best advocates for dealing with the rest of the world. I think if they had not been aimed at raising an adult rather than raising a child, I would not have been in the place where I could make that assessment and feel confident that it would be heard. And as I have said elsewhere, graduating from high school a year early was a really, really, really important and good decision for me, one that set me on the road for bunches of important and good decisions later on.)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)