Why 'Do Your Best' Is Horrible Advice

by Tomie Bankhead
Dougal Waters / Getty

There’s a mantra I’m exiling from my place. It’s lived with me for decades now, and I’m honestly so done tripping over the guilt it leaves lying around my heart and the rigid parameters it imposes on my mind. It has bullied me into submission and backed me into a corner with its well-meaning intentions one too many times…and I’m coming out swinging. This time it actually is you, not me…and I’m so over it!

“Do the best you can”—so seemingly innocent, ah, but there’s a double-edged dagger at the heart of this intrinsic motivator, and I’ve taken one too many jabs. Really…the best? Who gets that? Who has their game face on 100% of the time? Who executes each task with exactness…full-throttle effort? Who puts into practice every pinned idea? Who chooses their wisest words in a heated debate? Whose life goes unfiltered?

Oh, you do? Congratulations, you win and can stop reading now.

Don’t get me wrong. Your best is amazing! I have seen it—at the wow-factor parties for your kiddos or the fab retro bash when your hubby turned 40, and as you excitedly hug and congratulate your newly pregnant BFF when you so wish it were you having a baby. I see the heavy eyelids from nights spent soothing a sick toddler or talking your tense teen off a ledge.

Your best is celebrated in that race you trained tirelessly for, the tear-jerker toast you gave at your parent’s golden anniversary, and when you bravely sang to your momma as she slipped away. I see best all over your Instagram or starry-eyed with puppy ears on snap chat…but let’s be real: life is not always post-able, nor is it always or even consistently your personal best, right? I feel you! The effort it takes to pull off best is a total feat—it’s beautiful and praiseworthy, but it’s also wildly exhausting.

What if you had permission to step away and just do—not your best—but what you can? You don’t have to always live up to your Facebook highlight reel or what so-and-so does or what your nagging inner critic expects. You can go, go, go giving your best until you have nothing left to give. Talk about burnout. Can we lose the “always do your best” tagline? It’s a helluva taskmaster! It is okay to sometimes (or many times) not do or be the best you can.

When the kids are eating mac and cheese, cold cereal, or corndogs because my meal plan never made it off the grocery list, and I know it is void of any nutritional value… really? Is that the best I can do? No, and so be it. Best is top level presentation, and I’m good to pass on that on occasion.

Is every run a performance record? Is every report card straight A’s? Is every project top notch? Does every batch make it out of the oven unburned? No. Best is not the only acceptable input or outcome, so maybe we can give ourselves a break.

When is un-best good enough?

When I’m zoning out on my phone late at night because I need a minute—fine, hours that no one is needing me. This is not my best use of time, and it’s great. When I wake up in an unromantic tangle of arms and legs because I was too tired to enforce any differently…plus my kids are growing too fast anyway. When my convos with my tween go from happy chats to one-word answers then dwindle to fiery arguments, my best limps out with wounded ego. When my 4-year-old monkey child will not get off the top of the car in a crowded parking lot, my best parenting gives way to unabashed bribery.

When my kids have surpassed their allotted video game time (or friend time or bedtime…), my best makes exceptions — they’re just kids having fun, and I sometimes hate to be the fun-sucker. When my child is on her 3rd round of Frozen because (a) I’m so “morning sick” all day, it’s all I can do to lay on the floor with my throw-up bowl, (b) I’m trying to get this stuff done for work on time, or (c) I’m too _______ (fill in the blank) to pull off any better parenting today.

Excuses? Maybe.

Justification? Sometimes.

But quit measuring from the ceiling down—you’ll always end up short.

What about when it’s really hard? When I lose my cool trying to juggle 50 balls in the air and get mean, loud, and ugly to those I love, and my best is shame-faced hiding from my rant of recklessness—I recover, I ask forgiveness, and I try again harder… and softer. When breathing in and out is all I can do—when pain or perfection threaten to strangle my happiness, my best goes off duty and un-best boldly steps in to cover the bases.

Because really, try counts…”best” sucks sometimes. I can give what I can right now.

I now have a space available, and it’s much more affordable. There’s room in my place for raw and complicated and coloring outside the lines. My heart is uncramped and my soul stretches with mistakes, good enough, and joy.

Feel free to come on over.