Interpreting “Do Your Best”

“Do your best.” We’ve all heard this message in some form or another. Seemingly cliche, but it’s also super meaningful if you think about it.

Of course, we should not take “do your best” literally. That’s only possible a small percentage of the time. The law of averages says that we are statistically most likely to do our average.

For me, the real meaning is to give reasonable, consistent effort. Try to get better. Show up. Get to work.

I have thought a lot about cliches like this. There is a reason that “do your best” is a common piece of cross-cultural wisdom passed down from generation to generation. Parents, teachers, coaches, and counselors preach it all the time. The challenge is that we have to learn to de-cliche the cliche, which means that we have to think about what this phrase is really telling us and how we can begin to incorporate it in our life.

Let’s break down “do your best” a little further. The truth is that slacking off is always an option. It gives us an excuse (“I wasn’t really trying”), and it makes us more likely to indulge in momentous pleasures, while forgetting about the long-term challenges and delayed gratification associated with progress. Progress requires effort. Depending on the level of progress you’re after, a ton of effort could be needed. For other endeavors, not so much. It’s up to you what you want to put in.

Another operative word in this cliche is YOUR. I like that. You own “best.” It’s YOUR best. You get to decide what that looks like. As I mentioned, best isn’t literal. Perhaps it can be viewed as a symbolic aim. Something that keeps you going, keeps you hungry, keeps you growing.

The whole point of this ramble is that when someone says to you, “do your best,” take them seriously. Don’t look at the person like, “get out of here with that cliche nonsense.” Think about those words of wisdom. Use it as an opportunity to ponder your effort, your potential, whether you’re being too damn hard on yourself, or whether you are comparing yourself to others too much. Remember, you make the meaning. Do your best.

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