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Just Doing my Best

By Hildie Westenhaver

Angie and I both stood in the church hallway, bouncing our fussy babies on our hips. Our conversation turned to temple attendance. I sighed, “I’ve been going once a month to do sealings. I should probably go more often, but I’m doing the best that I can.” Angie stopped bouncing and looked at me, ”You’re not doing the best that you can. You could go more often. The temple is only five minutes away. I have two more kids than you and I go every week.” I was flabbergasted. I barely knew Angie. How dare she say that I wasn’t doing my best? But I thought about what she said for months. Was I doing my best?

“Just do your best.” We hear that all the time. Just do your best as parents and your kids should turn out OK. Just do your best as a wife, a student, an employee, a member of the ward. Technically “do your best”, should mean just that. Our best. The best we can do. But too often it seems like a copout. Too often “just do your best” ends up meaning “just do something”.

I think people use this phrase to mean, “don’t overdo everything and exhaust yourself trying to meet everyone’s expectations.” But is that what it’s supposed to mean? Or is it actually, “decide for yourself what ‘your best’ is and strive to meet that goal”?

What throws me off is the way that people rattle this phrase off whenever I do a poor job of something. My son gets in trouble at school? “Don’t beat yourself up”, says a kind neighbor; “you’re doing the best that you can.” But I’m not. Deep in my heart I know I could do so much more for my son. I think of all the ways I could help him. But it’s a lot of extra work. Some days I’m up for it, but most days I’m just too worn out or busy doing a million other things. It shouldn’t be that way, but that’s the truth. So it rankles me when people toss that phrase around. In so many ways I’m not doing my best: I squander my time. I don’t always choose what matters most. I could try harder at just about everything. I feel like I’m somewhere between decent and good in most areas of my life. But doing my best? I don’t think so. Unless “my best” is simply another way of saying “enough”.

Is “doing your best” just another way of condoning mediocrity or does this phrase remind you to strive harder for your goals? Or maybe it only reminds you that you can’t be perfect and to take it easier on yourself.

About Hildie Westenhaver

(Blog Team) was born and raised in Detroit, but is happy to call Austin, TX home now. She majored in Art History and Geography at BYU and graduated a week before having her first baby. There have been five more babies since then. Hildie is an avid baker and tries to fatten up the people she loves.

54 thoughts on “Just Doing my Best”

  1. fab post- I had a similar story I wanted to blog about. I was meeting with someone in RS pres. a few years ago. We talked about VTing and I expressed that I felt bad I hadn't beeen able to conenct more with a sister. She told me "DON'T feel guilty!" I responded – "No I need feel guilty- If I don't then I won't change. I need to make it a higher priority". I was upset that she wanted to dismiss the one thing that was ciritcal fro changing in that area. I agree with your "do something" that we often employ for "do your best".

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  2. This is something I've struggled with too. In high school I was in the Homecoming Queen pageant. As my talent I presented a slideshow of my artwork, which was supposed to be set to music. But the AV guys didn't start the music until halfway through. People said they wondered why the music started at that point and why I didn't get up and talk about my art. I felt so disappointed, I hadn't tried my best and everyone knew. I didn't really care about being Homecoming Queen, I cared that I didn't do my very best in front of so many people. One of those pivotal moments in life that got seared into my conscience.

    Now I realize (or rationalize?) that I have to take my challenges on one at a time. I can't do EVERYTHING my best, it's just impossible. And doing my best everyday all day would leave me utterly decimated at the end of the day. It is my goal that I do the most important things at my best. But even then, I am human. If I need a nap it's not that I'm no longer trying my best, it's recognizing a physical need. My goal is not necessarily to do my very best all the time, but to improve a tiny bit everyday.

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  3. Two books that sharpened my whole perspective on this, both by Stephen Robinson:

    Believing Christ
    Following Christ

    The first one, quite literally, changed my life. The second helped me understand what it meant to "do my best."

    But I still say that Angie's best has nothing to do with your best. Oh, if YOU feel that you should be attending the temple more often then you probably are right. But that is totally between you and the Lord and Angie should keep her comments to herself.

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  4. I'm sorry, the line "”You’re not doing the best that you can. . . . I have two more kids than you and I go every week” really bugs me.

    Regardless of whether once a month is, in fact, the best you can do, Angie didn't have the right to demand you meet her standards for herself. It was rude and judgmental. Maybe you aren't doing your best, but your best doesn't have to be Angie's best.

    I'm not going to manage any kind of eloquence, because I don't really know what I mean, just that I'm upset about it. It seems that for the most part we as a culture are too hard on ourselves. Our personal best will not be completely achieved in this life, but so many of us still keep pushing ourselves and punishing ourselves because we aren't doing "our best." Sometime doing enough just has to be our best, at least for the moment.

    I could probably manage to make it to the temple a couple of times a month (I currently have to drive 3 hours to get to one; ours is closed for renovations), but trying to do that would make going to the temple another chore, and I would come to resent it the way I do the laundry — something else that takes up my time. I would rather still love going to the temple and look forward it, even if I only make it once every couple of months or every quarter. My best might just be keeping the right attitude about it, rather than getting the numbers but doing it begrudgingly.

    Our personal best for any task is going to change as we grow. Not saying we shouldn't try, but we shouldn't feel the need to beat ourselves up over every place that we fall just a little short of the mark.

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  5. I really appreciated the inner lesson here — you didn't let Angie's comment canker your spirit.

    By pondering, you allowed the truth to surface, and help you.

    So many times we take offense, and let the spirit of anger and contention take us places we shouldn't be.

    True, Angie's abilities may not be yours. But an invitation to attend the temple more often is a wonderful thing.

    Peyton — I hope that going to the temple more often never becomes like laundry!!

    For me, I heard the promises made to us if we will go to the temple, and I don't want to, can't afford to miss out on them, so I've figured out what worked for me, and am finding joy in doing my best to go!

    Does anybody else start smiling as soon as you enter the temple?!! Can't help it :-)!

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  6. Only you (and God) know if you're doing your best.

    I know my best – based upon my family's priorities and values – looks very different than your best.

    Yes, some days I slack.

    Other days I work so hard that "me" gets lost.

    Somewhere between the two is my best – the best for my family; the best for my fellow wo-man/man; the best for my God; the best for my health, safety, and personal growth.

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  7. I suffered (and continue to recover) with postpartum depression/anxiety with my forth child–the debilitating, life-changing variety. Most days I nursed my baby, tried to have clean clothes for everyone the next day, and put some sort of food on the table. And some days I just nursed my baby. On paper my achievements for any given day looked pitiful. But when I knelt down at night before my Maker and considered if I'd done my best, I knew deep down in my soul that given my limitations and circumstances my offering was acceptable.
    Some of us are goal-oriented and motivated by the challenge to do our "best" in visiting teaching, temple attendance, geneology… Others of us (that would be me) are overwhelmed and discouraged to think that just surviving a day of mothering and other church-oriented responsibilities can't be considered our best. Let the word mean what it needs to mean to motivate the individual to keep pressing forward one day at a time.

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  8. As a long-time perfectionist, "doing my best" is a huge trap phrase for me. When I start getting too hard on myself, I'll think, or someone will say, "Just do your best." But, in my mind I could always do better or more, so "best" just becomes code for "perfect."

    My response is just to leave the whole "best" question alone for now, because I'm really not sure what "best" really means for me. Something that helps me is that I've realized that if I feel inadequate and depressed that those feelings don't come from the Spirit. When the Spirit inspires me to do something better I usually feel inspired and hopeful. So, I try not to listen so much to the I'm-not-good-enough feelings and just do what I can.

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  9. I've found that a feeling of despair and being overwhelmed and that I'm never going to succeed comes from Satan. The kind of guilt that comes from God, that truly means I should do more, feels energizing, hopeful, light. When I feel that, I know it's God encouraging me and I feel excited to try harder. The other kind leads to no good.

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  10. I remember years ago getting bugged by Oprah (well, actually I've been bugged by Oprah a number of times since–but I'm talking about this one specific time). Anyway, she loved to quote Maya Angelou and say, "Do the best you can until you know better. And when you know better, do better."

    I understood the spirit of the quote . . . but the problem is, and remains, that I "know better" in so many areas. I know better but I still fall short. We ALL do. Oprah, for example, "knows better" as far as what she needs to eat and how much she needs to exercise, but her ability to follow through on that knowledge obviously fluctuates.

    But enough about Oprah. The truth is, we're all human and we all make choices about how to spend our time. I think it's our job to figure out how to best balance our lives among the many competing "good things" vying for our attention. I find that I'm happiest when I embrace certain aspects of my own mediocrity. When I allow myself to be mediocre in some areas, it frees me up try to be excellent in the areas that are most important to me.

    So none of us can do "our best" in everything. Especially since so many good things have no upper limit as to what the "best" might be. Technically, Angie could have gone to the temple every DAY if she really tried hard enough, right? We could read our scriptures for three hours a day. We could live in an immaculate house. We could get PhDs. We could become foster parents and take in dozens of needy children. We could, we could, we could.

    The list of "could"s is infinite, but our time and energy is not. But I think the key to happiness is to understand ourselves, find the balance that works best, challenge ourselves when necessary, and accept certain aspects of our inevitable mediocrity. I know I'm happiest when I follow that pattern.

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  11. I have struggled for this for so long and over so many topics. Family history? Nope, haven't done it. Weekly temple attendance? More like once a month, maybe. Engaging my children's creative abilities and making sure they enter the Reflections contest in every category so that someday they can be Sterling Scholars? Uh, no. I've finally had to come to terms with the fact that every day I will NOT be doing my best in every aspect of my life. That's just the way it is. However, I CAN be a little better each day in SOME aspect of my life. And at the end of the day, Heavenly Father loves me (and each of us), regardless. Isn't that wonderful?!?

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  12. Being perfect isn't possible. If it were, we wouldn't be here.

    Best is different in each person's own frame of reference. Obviously, Angie's best was doing what she was doing. But the trick is remembering that your best isn't the same as everyone's best. So is she doing her best at not judging you in your strivings to be a faithful woman of God? Probably not.

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  13. We just can't judge each other and decide for someone else what their best is…or how much THEY should be doing. Sure we do better when we know better, (as Maya Angelou says) but sometimes we know better but just lack the ability at the moment…and that's okay. This life is a journey. No one else can decide our priorities at any given time. I have had occasions when I have been all dressed ready to go to the temple when I get a call and someone needs me and I change plans. I feel the pull both ways, but ultimately just try to make the best decision at the time. That's all any of us can do, right?

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  14. This seems like such a slippery slope that brings us right back to the reason the "do your best" phrase started to spread in the first place. If we start to stress all the time and wonder if each thing we do in any given area is our true "best", then we are going to go crazy, or at least I am. I feel like I've been hearing for years that we need to be easier on ourselves, and yes, we can be too lenient, but there is nothing wrong with just doing "enough" sometimes. The grace of Christ is SUFFICIENT for us. Satan can use feelings of both complacency and inadequacy to equal degrees. Either we think we're doing enough but we're really not, or we're trying to be perfect at something and we don't see it…we just think we're trying to be our best, but that "best" is actually unattainable.

    At the very minimum, I think we should keep our focus limited. Maybe we can only work on discovering our personal best for one thing at a time. And the rest can be left at enough. And if that one thing begins with something like temple attendance or prayer or scripture study, then it will probably be easier to see things the in the right light and find our true best selves.

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  15. 1. I agree with the other commenters: Angie's best has no more to do with your best than Michaelangelo's chapel has to do with your best artistic endeavors. Angie sounds organized and together, which is great for her. Being organized and together, however, is just as much a matter of intrinsic talent as anything else and not everyone will have the same amount of success in those arenas, no matter how hard they try. (This isn't an excuse to give up; it's just an explanation of how one person's "best" in a certain area can be much less than another person's "best" in the same area.)

    2. You didn't say you were doing your best at temple attendance in particular; you just said you were doing your best in general. None of us with kids are doing the best we could be doing at temple attendance. None of us with kids should be, because doing our "best" at temple attendance would mean doing much worse at other things that matter. You simply can't do your best at everything all at once; you have to choose. What you meant is that you're doing your best at achieving the greatest overall good in the combined areas and roles of your life. Now, whether or not that's actually true remains for you to examine, but make sure you understand what you really meant before you start considering your statement's accuracy.

    3. We do need to be careful not to turn "doing my best" (in the overall picture of our lives) into a self-justifying tautology. We need to make sure that "doing my best" isn't simply defined by whatever we happen to be doing, and that we actually consider it as an independent goal, a standard we can look at and use to judge our own successes and possibilities for improvement.

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  16. This is an awesome post. When I'm having a hard day and my daughter is particularly whiny, I often say "I'm do the best I can!" But I know I say it sometimes to make myself feel better because I actually know I'm not doing my best. Interesting that I think saying it to my 18-month-old, who doesn't understand what I'm saying, will somehow absolve the fact that I'm not trying my best.

    Always doing the best I can is really hard. It is so much easier to be lazy, or even to try in moderation. But I think on the days I actually do try my best and I am proactive, I am happier. Maybe because I don't feel guilty for slacking. And then, when I do get to relax and take a break, I enjoy it more because I know I was working hard– that I actually WAS doing my best, instead of just saying it.

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  17. "I find that I’m happiest when I embrace certain aspects of my own mediocrity. When I allow myself to be mediocre in some areas, it frees me up try to be excellent in the areas that are most important to me."

    I completely agree. You probably also achieve the greatest level of overall accomplishment, since more and more social science is indicating that people make much more significant improvement when they apply their efforts to things they're ALREADY good at, rather than to things they're bad or mediocre at. One study showed that in a speed-reading class, the participants who were already fast readers increased their reading speed by several times more than the participants who had begun the class as poor readers.

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  18. I think that whatever we do, we should stay away from comparisons. Sister Hinckley said something about how everyone is going through their own Gethsemane and we should all be kind regardless of how their lives look on the outside.

    I felt really guilty when my new RS president called me for the 2nd time last month to see if I had my VT done (why? I'm not sure. I think she wanted to know about one of the sisters.) Anyway, I hadn't. Not even called my companion.

    I'm usually a rockstar visiting teacher. But guess what? This month, I've had a miscarriage, my mother freaked out at something my husband said and made a huge family scene about it (we're the only members too…great huh?), my husband is quiting his job and starting his own company (so we're relocating to), I weaned my baby (oh sleepless nights!), my son has been sick for 2 weeks, our van broke down, and my husband was rear-ended in his truck. Throw into the mix 4 family birthdays and a holiday…

    Yeah, no visiting teaching happened in October. And if someone had asked me how many times I went to the Temple. Zero. The kicker? None of the things I listed above are common knowledge to anyone in the ward. We look like a normal family. And I'm just a SAHM with only two kids. I should have loads of free time. Right?

    Sorry, I guess this also turned into a bit of venting. I suppose I really am feeling guilty about the VT thing.

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  19. I don't know what else to add to the other comments. Just don't forget that as much time you need to be serving others, you need to set time for yourself. If you don't make it as important to serve yourself as others, life becomes a strain and no fun.

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  20. I tend to use that phrase as a stick to beat myself up with for not being perfect. I can ALWAYS do better.

    I think as members of the church we tend to not rely on grace and mercy in the way the Savior means us to. (Hence, the reason "Believing Christ" and "Following Christ" resonate with so many people)

    For me, it comes down to priorities. MY priorities. For ME. For ONE DAY at a time. Some priorities are long-term commitments that require a great deal of effort on my part, that may not be easy. Some come up and change my day at a moments notice. Some days they aren't necessarily obvious.

    But what IS clear, is that if I ASK in faith, things will usually clear themselves up for me. MY job, is to be WILLING to do what is is I ought to be doing for THAT DAY.

    So, I don't think it comes down to a matter of execution, but more of what we are WILLING to do, and generally, our actions match up to our desires. And when they do, I am at peace with myself.

    I remember once when I was complaining about how I just "couldn't" keep a super clean house (making excuses) my husband said (in a very non critical way actually), "If it was important to you, you would do it." It made me mad. But he was absolutely right.

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  21. I think as LDS women we do this to ourselves far too often — compare something that we're not great at with someone's VERY BEST. All of us have things that we could do better and we're continually beating ourselves up for not being someone else's idea of "perfect." SO WHAT if miss smarty pants goes to the temple every week and you only go once a month? You may do plenty more with your life than she does in another area. Did you ask her about her visiting teaching? Her family history? Her canning? I sincerely do not believe that God will judge us for the number of accomplishments that we have in any paricular area — whether it be temple attendance, VT, HT, or whatever else is on the list. What I believe He cares about is our heart — what is our intent? What is our capacity at any given time in our life? Sometimes we have the capacity to give more than others. Sometimes it is not our season to go to the temple every week, but it is for someone else. Doing your very best is just that — doing your very best. Today it may mean checking off everything on the list and tomorrow it may mean just not yelling at your kids. Give yourself a break — you are doing OK.

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  22. Doing our best, like Heidi said ("You simply can’t do your best at everything all at once; you have to choose. What you meant is that you’re doing your best at achieving the greatest overall good in the combined areas and roles of your life."), isn't breaking down our days and actions into segments, it is taking in the whole picture, the complete package of what we do and assessing ourselves.

    Also, trying to be perfect denies the atonement. Doing our best does NOT equate to perfection, and by feeling that you're not measuring up, not *worthy*, you deny the place and the power of the atonment.

    "To everything there is a season." You can't "do your best" in every endeavor all the time. Accept that. Life isn't a matter of achieving 100% in each category. It is finding the balance among all the responsibilities. And in continuing to work on balance as the aspects of our lives continue to shift around. Life is a series of decisions: Whenever we spend time and effort towards one thing, that means we can't do "X" amount of other things.

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  23. Doing your best – something we all struggle with. Some of us are perfectionists, and some of us just need a good excuse. A lot of us are probably doing our best. The difficult thing is: "best" seems to have a changing definition. It seems like this is a situation where it is helpful to have a good relationship with the Savior and to be close to the Spirit.

    On the other hand, I think that it is important to usually assume that others are "doing their best." It is easy to become over-critical of how other people are mothering, fulfilling callings, visiting teaching, etc. Being so harsh on others is just as destructive as being too harsh on yourself.

    Anyways – great post. It is so important to think about what we are doing – and if it is our best.

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  24. One more thing. I'm a big fan of Micah 6:7-8 and think it's particularly applicable to LDS women:

    7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
    8 He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

    Just substitute temple sessions for rams, and keep the rivers of oil and pretend that they're talking about food storage, and you've got the same question that lots of Mormon women ask God. In fact, I even think the sacrificing of one's firsborn can even work on a metaphorical level. How many of us have ignored our children (or were ignored by our own parents) in the name of trying to "perfectly" execute a church calling?

    Micah 6:8 gives me a lot of peace. Perhaps it allows me to let myself off the hook sometimes, but I trust that God knows my heart and will make up the difference when I falter and fail.

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  25. Here are all the things I'm not doing my best at:

    1. eating healthy
    2. visiting teaching
    3. fulfilling my calling
    4. fellowshipping new members
    5. attending new member baptisms
    6. temple attendance
    7. praying always
    8. scripture study
    9. keeping the sabbath day holy
    10. keeping the word of wisdom
    11. fasting
    12. parenting
    13. being a wife
    14. classwork
    15. being a friend
    16. being a daughter
    17. being a daughter
    18. serving my community
    19. charity
    20. food storage

    I wouldn't say we're letting ourselves off the hook if we say I'm doing the best I can. My inspiration comes when I see women working tirelessly in their callings and in their lives magnify christ. I wish those women would tell me how they do it, instead of telling me I cna do it better.

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  26. For me "do your best" is usually an infinite reminder that what I am doing is never good enough.

    However, I've found some real peace in the phrase "Better is the enemy of good enough."

    As a personal example, I can usually read my scriptures/Ensign every day for 5-15 minutes. It is uplifting and inspiring. One Sunday after some "do your best" talk or lesson, I figured I should read for 20 minutes a day. I tried, but for some reason, all my scripture study fell apart. I couldn't do it. Frustrated, I did NO scripture study for awhile. Eventually, I decided to go back to my 5-15 minute pattern, which is where I am now. My scripture study, while it may be a small offering, continues to bless my life.

    I agree with others who have said that we should not compare ourselves… I also appreciated the Micah 6:8 scripture Angela mentioned.

    Thanks for a great post and discussion.

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  27. My husband and I have set a goal of quarterly temple attendance, and we've hit it once this year. And sadly, that's the best we've done in years. If someone told me I could be doing better (which I know) I would probably smack them because at least I'm trying.

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  28. I think doing your best also means doing your best to choose wisely, choose well, and do it well. You can't do it all. If you go to the temple it means that during that time you can't help with a child's homework or write in your journal or take dinner to someone or go to work or clean the bathroom or prepare your lesson or play legos with your son or talk to your daughter about drugs or listen to a friend who needs to talk or pay your bills or do the laundry or read an article on toddlers and learning or potty training your two year old or helping your five year old clean her room or going to bed early, etc.
    Doing your best means that you go to the Lord and ask him to help you choose how you can best use your day. Sometimes you need to be in the temple, sometimes your best is not at the temple but doing the many other wonderful things that you are should do or want to do or can do.

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  29. I like the time and season for everything. At one tithing settlement we had a Bishop start in on us, like a used car salesman, trying to impress upon us the need to go to the temple right then. I look at Dh, it was the first time in, maybe a couple of years!, that we had gotten out alone together. He wanted us to use our date night to go to the temple, I wanted to snort, like we had a regular date night. I had an overactive toddler, who didn't like to be babysat by most people and a 4 year old, who was equally draining. I could've taken this Bishop's counsel and become very depressed that I wasn't doing my best or even an adequate job or even become disgruntled with him. But I remember the time and season and I didn't beat myself up about another thing I wasn't doing. Now that my girls are in school, I have set a goal of going once a month this school year and I have and I enjoy it and it's not a chore.
    But I have learned to listen to a piece of criticism and really ponder whether or not it was true and justified. If it's not, I just try and let it go.

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  30. Dear Anon,
    My heart goes out to you!!!

    One recent Sunday, as I was trying to apply Elder Scott's counsel about listening to the Spirit, the thought came,
    "I will be there with you."

    I hope you feel Heavenly Father, the Savior, the Holy Ghost, and loving, watchful angels are there with you, too!

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  31. This is a valuable post.

    As I used to tell my kids when they were comparing themselves to others (either favorably or unfavorably): Life is not a contest. So I agree with many commenters here that Angie's best and yours have nothing to do with one another.

    Maybe the words "do your best" should be replaced with "do the best you can under the circumstances." The problem is, even in difficult circumstances, a lot of women (as evidenced by many comments here), have trouble defining how good their "best" has to be.

    In making this very personal determination, I think it's of the utmost importance not to compare ourselves to others. Several years ago. I even wrote the following poem on the subject:

    Just For A Change

    ©2000 by Susan Noyes Anderson, "Sunshine for the Latter-day Mother’s Soul," Eagle Gate

    Just for a change I’d like to make
    a change this very day–
    I’d like to do the things that all
    those mothering books say.
    I’d like to give up yelling and
    perfect the old “I” statement.
    (Not “turn that racket down!”) …
    but “I’m in need of noise abatement.”
    (Not “talk back once more and you’re toast!”) …
    but “I demand respect.”
    (Not “Brush your teeth, or die!”) …
    “I fear your hygiene is suspect.”
    I’d like to be the kind of mom
    who gets the kids to clean
    (and they all end up having fun,
    and no one thinks you’re mean!).
    I’d like to be the kind who gets
    the dinner on the table
    and never has to set it ‘cause
    her children are so able…
    And willing, oh, I’d like to be
    the kind that makes them willing–
    I’d write a how-to book, and
    would I ever make a killing!
    I’d sort of like to be the type
    who’s frugal as can be
    and manages her time so well
    she’s always home by three.
    The kind whose kids are never spoiled
    because they love to work,
    who think a kid who asks his mom
    for money is a jerk.
    I’d really like to be that kind––
    and, oh, just one more thing…
    I’d like to be the kind who’s never
    freaked by anything.
    The kind who always keeps her cool,
    no matter what goes down.
    The kind who can control her kids
    with one look, or one frown.
    (Or two looks or two frowns, or even
    one big burst of words!)
    I’d like to be the kind who looks
    real hip, but not absurd.
    In short, I’d like to be a mom
    who’s good as good can be.
    The only problem is, how would
    my children know it’s me?

    Tongue in cheek, yes. But I like the idea that, while we all have a responsibility to do our "best" in any circumstances, we are all human. And loved, despite our weaknesses.

    😉

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  32. There are so many things I am not best at. Come bask in my mediocrity. First though the funny thing; last night as we were going to the Young Women in Excellence program my DH said, "Thing is in our family we are excellent at being mediocre. Knowing and being ok with that is its own kind of excellence."

    I think lots of you already hit the nail on the head with your comments. I know it will probably be redundant but I can't resist telling a story…

    A few years ago my Stake President ask all members of the stake to study their scriptures for 30 minutes a day. I know for many of the people in our stake as they obeyed this counsel it became a huge blessing and the eyes of their understanding were opened though the practice. For me it became, as strange as it sounds, an impediment to my personal scripture study. I had been faithful for years studying my scriptures. Every day it was something that I would look earnestly forward to, I would squeeze it into any nook or cranny that presented itself, for some seasons it was in the morning, sometimes before bed, sometimes in the quiet time while the baby was sleeping, sometimes in the car while I waited for one thing or another, or when the favorite PBS kids program was on and the little ones were somewhat occupied. I wasn't always perfect at it but it was wonderful.

    The habit had started years before. I had a Relief Society President that related some advice that she had received while in college, "Make yourself a promise that you will open your scriptures every single day, even if it is just for one verse, open your scriptures and read them. You may be able to convince yourself that there is no room for a half hour of study or I'm to tired for a chapter or even a page, but no one was ever too tired or too busy for a verse." I found the challenge intriguing so I took it. At the time the Stake President's 30 minute challenge was issued, I had been engaged in a pretty faithful study habit for proceeding 12 years or so. Many days "at least that one verse" turned into pages and chapters and sometimes whole books or a topic thoroughly vetted out at a one sitting, and sometimes it was just one verse, but I cracked the treasure trove almost every day.

    I try to be the obedient but I often fall short in many areas, leaving me feeling like a failure. At the time he ask us to do this I was struggling with some chronic health issues, trying to steer six rambunctious children (including my first teenager) by myself along the gospel path, attending to domestic duties that seemed to never end. Despite all my efforts I always seemed to be barely keeping my head above water. I was serving in a calling that I found challenging… nothing out of the ordinary just a lot on my plate. Most days I couldn't sit down in one place for more than ten minutes and not fall asleep. I tried to follow the counsel, but more often I failed. When alert enough I would find myself looking at the clock reading to fill the allotted time rather than fill my lamp. If I couldn't see a 30 minute window I would feel like "why bother?" It was a very frustrating year.

    Then at the end of last year at the Brand New Year Celebration the GA's challenged the YW and YM and their leaders and parents to read from the BoM 5 minutes a day. The stake president got up and told us that he had been overruled in this regard and that we should follow the counsel of the GA's. I can't tell you the relief I felt. Finally I could engage in the scriptures again without feeling like a failure almost every single day.

    If I could have do overs instead of beating myself all the previous year, I would have/should have gone to the Lord with my initial frustration and dilemma. Perhaps he would have accepted my offering in the form that I was presently offering it, or perhaps He would have blessed me with the strength, energy consciousness to do exactly as the Stake President asked, perhaps their would have been some other solution, the point is I wasted a year, not in every way but in that respect. Wasted it feeling like a failure wasted it not reading my scriptures regularly because I felt I couldn't measure up. I even had some frustrated feelings towards my Stake President because didn't he know? Didn't he understand how stretched thin I was? The Stake President probably did not… I've had never personally met him, but the Lord did and does and He would have helped me figure it out.

    If you felt a twinge when your friend said that, take it to the Lord, He will either bless you with peace about your current offering or help you see if there is more that you need to be doing and help you figure out a way to do it. Your friend doesn't have a stewardship over you. She doesn't know where you are at inside your private world or or private heart. The most she can do for you is be a a bit of a cheerleader for something that is good and wonderful. Don't let another person's expectations or definition of "BEST" be a spoiler for you and yours.

    There are lots of things that I can not do to specifications because of my situation including the temple, (DH not being a member and not being ok with the idea and all) the things that have troubled me the most I have taken to the Lord and he has either helped me find a way, found another way, or spoken peace and understanding to my heart about my current course, or softened DH heart so that I could follow mine. There are some that I feel like it is ok to be in holding pattern about while I tend the weightier matters. Figuring out where the best places to apply the resources we're given be they time talent or energy can be complicated. I think it is on purpose that I am not given equal resources to good works I'm supposed to be about, that way two things can happen I can learn to use discernment to determine where to put my limited resources and I can ask for and see miracles as the Lord makes more of my materials that I can make myself.

    Hard as I try seem to only be able to progress in imperfect fits and starts, but at least they can all be in the direction back to my Heavenly Father and that's some kind of "BEST" even if it is only the Dovie kind.

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  33. Thanks for this fantastic post Jennie. And thanks to everyone for their insightful comments. I've learned so much today! Your poem is priceless Sue.

    I agree with all the previous comments that 'Angie' was out of line, but I also admire your humility and introspection to say, "Maybe I'm not doing my best."

    There are so many areas where I'm not doing my best; more regular temple attendance is a goal that I just haven't been able to achieve this fall. But you know what I can do? I can increase my study of the scriptures– and I don't need a babysitter or a free afternoon to accomplish that!

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  34. Great food for thought!

    I found myself really starting to "achieve" more when I accepted how very little my "best" actually is! I never felt I had done my best at things, most things.
    While repenting AGAIN of falling short the Lord allowed me to see…that My mediocrity WAS my very best. As strange as that sounds, it was very comforting. I stopped competing with myself and allowed myself to truly depend on The Lord.
    Loaves and fishes applies here as well, some of us only show up with 2 loaves!

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  35. I have loved this topic today. Thank you.

    I learned on my mission, that the only measure of "best" that was important was the Lord's. Some day I am queen of the world and in my soul, I know I could have done better. Other days, I am doing well to scrape along the floor of life and I know that it was the best I had to offer and that my meager offering is acceptable to the Lord.

    That self-knowledge aside, I am a horrible comparer. I always feel like the things that I can manage are nothing special and that I should be able to manage what everyone else is doing too. But, I am continually surprised to find out what someone else isn't doing, can't manage and that she is beating herself with the stick of my success. It's all about choices, none of us has any more hours in the day and we all have our own package of problems keeping us from translation. I love Sister Hinckley's Gethsemane quote.

    My best lesson on this subject came from my stake president's wife (who seems perfect, but who I am learning has plenty of things she doesn't/can't do too). When we feel like we are woefully inadequate, unable to measure up and in need of changing everything, just change one thing. Make one change. Listen to the Lord as to what that change should be and that one change will be the catalyst for a whole new outlook, even if NOTHING else actually changes. This one insight has made a world of difference for me lately.

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  36. I had a good friend who would say "you did the best you could in that moment" and sometimes, maybe it is a way to rationalize, but I think it is really true. I can look back when I was sleep deprived, had a colicky baby and a hyper-active 2 yr old and maybe I didn't deal with some things as well as I "normally" could. But for that moment, that was my best.

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  37. I think we confuse the term "our best" with "our best if everything were going just perfectly in our lives". Some days, my best is that everyone is still alive, safe, and fed at the end of the day. That isn't the "best" that I am capable of doing on a good day, but on a bad day, it is all I can do to just survive the day. I like what Laylu said – I use that phrase a lot: "the best I could do in that moment or at that time". Do we really TRY to be lazy and mediocre? Really, how many people say, "you know, I really would like to feel like a failure today. I will go out of my way to do a lousy job at everything I do, and I really could care less about how it affects myself or others." Maybe those people exist, but I don't know them. Everyone I know is trying so hard to be a good person, a good mom, dad, wife, husband, sister, daughter, member of society. Yes, we "screw up" all the time, but isn't that what makes us human and not Gods yet? I agree that the adversary uses this perfectionism as a tool to get us to feel discouraged. And, when we are down, we do less, and don't even want to try. It works, doesn't it?

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  38. I don't do "best". Not for everything. I don't even do "best" at most things.

    I "try".

    I "try" to do the most I can where it is most needed – with my boys, with my house, with my study, with my work, with everything.

    Somedays just doing "enough" (to feed my sons, to wash a load of laundry, to remember I need to study [tomorrow]) works "best" for me.

    I try to put in the extra effort where it is worth it. In Emily Watt's "Lessons I Learnt By Accident (because I had children on purpose)" she states a three point check list she uses to go "the extra mile" (and I'm paraphrasing because the book is packed away):

    1. Will it feed/boost someone? (i.e. emotionally, physically, spiritually)
    2. Will it feed/boost me somehow (same ways as #1)
    3. Do I have the resources (time, effort, energy, money etc) to do it?

    If all three are an obvious "yes" then go right ahead. Best example I had of that was last year with my son's 11th birthday. Every year previously I had made some amazing theme cake, and loved doing it. Last year, we were dealing with separation, and everything was awful. Yes, he would have loved whatever cake I made (#1) but I wasn't sure the boost to me would have outweighed the drain (#2), and I sure as hell didn't have the time or energy to spare. So I asked if he would like to buy a cake, he chose a $5 caramel mudcake and I nearly cried with relief.

    I deliberately choose where my "best" is best spent – not always, everywhere, 24-7, and not compared to anyone else's efforts or "best".

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  39. I love that as often as not, by the time I've finished reading a thread here, everyone's covered everything I would have said. I particularly enjoyed the comments in this thread; there is so much wisdom and thoughtfulness here.

    I do have a couple things the comments made me think of, concerning motivation. When I'm feeling overwhelmed with all of the things I should do, it helps me a lot when I try to think of which things I actually want to do, and why, and do those things first. Sometimes even if I don't want to do the task(s), I do want the outcome, and that can be motivating, but it's even more motivating when I can see a way that the process itself is connected to my righteous desires. My less-helpful usual way of thinking is to think of something like going to the temple as something I should be doing, and probably am not doing enough, and to consider myself to be in a state of failure in regards to the task. Then going to the temple becomes an attempt to redeem myself (instead of letting the Atonement redeem me,) and I'm no longer attending for the experience's own sake–and I lose my sense of wanting to attend (because it will never be enough; it only erases the debt but doesn't put me in the black.) If I can re-frame my thoughts to remember that I can be in good graces with the Savior according to the state of my heart before I've even made it to the temple, and instead think about why I WANT to go to the temple, and what I will enjoy about going, I'll stop being hard on myself and instead will start trying to find a way to get there, in order to get what I want. (Sometimes it's really not within reason to get there that week, and then in the short term I just have to find some other way to meet that desire for renewal of covenants and nearness to God.) I try to adjust my thinking in the same way with other tasks, thinking of why I wanted them in the first place: I want to do my visiting teaching because I need friends and care about those sisters, because I am interested in their lives, because I crave Gospel conversations, and because it is a nice break from my kids. I want to do laundry because I like seeing dirty things get new life as clean things.

    This all goes along with all of your great comments about how Satan wants us to feel discouraged, etc. When I can adjust my thinking this way, it helps me live in the moment and let my actual experiences "count" rather than dutifully checking them off the list, all the while feeling that they are not enough and never will be enough.

    I can be very task-oriented and pretty far toward the hard-on-myself end of the personality spectrum, so the above way of thinking doesn't usually come naturally to me, but it does help me a lot when I remember to stop and think about why I'm doing what I'm doing, and allow myself to enjoy the process.

    Here's one more related coping technique of mine: Instead of having a goal to finish a task, I try instead to just plan to work on the task. As the mom of 5 young kids, (which I had on purpose, and am learning things from by accident–love that title,) as often as not I can't finish what I begin, so if my goal is just to work on something, I can still feel successful even if I have to quit working on it long before it's complete.

    I guess these ideas are just practical ways to make the adjustment from trying (impossibly) to atone for my own sins, versus trusting that the Atonement will take care of them, and doing good because I love the Savior and am allowing my heart to be changed.

    Now I'm trying to tie this back in to the idea of whether or not we're truly doing our best, but I'm pretty sleepy by now–hmmm. Okay: so on the one hand our false "best" could be like Alma's "Oh that I were an angel . . . but I am a man and do sin in my wish" sentiment of wanting to accomplish things with superhuman power, this being a sin when it denies God's plan (taking matters into our own hands) and doesn't accept His time frame or His respect for our agency. On the other hand, our true "best" would be like Nephi's faith that we can do whatever the Lord truly asks of us (which may or not be what our neighbor thinks they know it to be,) and having our hearts changed so that we have "no more desire to do evil, but to do good continually." (Forgive the quotes without references; I think my personal best right now might be try to alleviate some sleep deprivation, so I'll just say that they're quoted from memory and are somewhere in the Book of Mormon.)

    Thanks again for all of your wonderful comments; this was a bit of a feast (or anyway a really filling midnight snack.)

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  40. I try most days to get through my list and keep people happy. Some days I can try harder than others and do well, some days I fall flat on my face.

    NOBODY except the Lord has any idea whether what I achieved was my best or not, and it is nobody else's business. I do not know what is going on in other peoples lives and they are equally oblivious to mine (whatever they may think). When we see other other we only scratch the surface of their life.

    Personally I have a lot going on now that the ward is not aware of. Instead of accepting assignments I am stepping back because I have to. I can barely get through the day let alone take a meal to others or visit the temple. Yet, to the ward I still look the same, and I have chosen to let it be that way. My personal life is private (except to Segullah and close friends). My best is mine alone, and noone has any right to comment on it.

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  41. When on my deathbed I know I will be anxious about meeting my Heavenly Father. Why? Because no matter what I do, in hindsight I could have done it better. I know it's a test. I know that where much is given much is required. But are we making ourselves too anxious? Is life supposed to be this stressful?

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  42. I have a couple of thoughts. One, most folks are far too judgmental. How does someone else know the shoes you walk in? And what gives them permission to throw the "should" word around? No one has the right to should all over another person until they've walked in their shoes.

    Second, your best is your best at the time you're doing it. If YOU decide it's not your best, and you can change something because YOU feel that you want to, then that is the Spirit speaking to your mind. I hope that makes sense. Sometimes we are doing our best–in other words, all we can do or handle at a given time–and then we are enlightened. When the enlightenment comes, you can make adjustments. The enlightenment I'm talking about is that which is divine for the purpose of growth, not anything that is guilted on to you by another person.

    Wow, apparently I feel strongly about this. 😀

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  43. thanks for your post..and for all the comments, you all are so wise, I appreciate all the remarks. You definitely cannot allow your friend to tell you what you should do..if she wishes to encourage, she can lead by example.

    Three years ago, my younger sis completed a marathon. I cheered for her, loved seeing her run across the finish line. I knew she had done her best.

    Meanwhile at the same marathon (Marine Corp) I saw the man who came in 2nd place and knew he'd done his best.

    At that race I also met a lady who'd completed other marathons, but this one she finished about half and then stopped..she said she knew her body and knew she'd done her best for that day and said that she was pleased w/her efforts..I clapped for her!

    And as I work in a nursing home earlier that week I'd worked w/an 80 year old man who for a couple weeks had needed 3 people to help him stand. And one day that week he stood for 20 seconds w/just me..I had tears in my eyes for him..he had done his best!

    Somehow this trail of personal experiences helped me to realize our best is so personal and unique. Like others have said, in spiritual things, Heavenly Father is the one who knows whether or not we've done it. He knows all of our circumstances, He knows the level of challenge associated w/the tasks of our lives.

    Thanks for such a helpful post.

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  44. I love this post. It's something that's been on my mind a bit lately, starting a new job and working from home, and wondering if I really am "doing my best" when there seems to be a lot of distractions that get in the way (but there could be more!). I think the lesson here is that if you are wondering if you are doing your best, you probably could be doing a little bit better.

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  45. I agree with Suvi for the most part, but when your at the point where your either in the fetal position sucking your thumb, or screaming at everyone living with you, its' time to RELAX!

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  46. This post is why I read Segullah. If I had the words, I might have written this, but I'm not a writer. Wow. And some of the comments are out of this world fantastic. Thank you. I have nothing to add, but felt like I needed to make sure I added my thanks for such an insightful and applicable (to my life at least) conversation.

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