Done Your Best? Was it Good Enough?

” ‘I have done my best’, that is about all the philosophy of living that one needs.”                                                               ~ Lin-yutang

I might wish to disagree with the message, because it implies it is acceptable to believe all that we have already done is, and always was, the best we could have done.  So, I would not encourage others to accept it as true unless I was convinced that their average or even their worst was the best they could do.  Since we speak of the past, their worst may have been the best they did, bot NOT necessarily the best they could have done.

Besides that, why would we want to say: “This is about the only philosophy of living we need”?  By that, should we throw away all the other philosophies?  What about the brilliance of Bertrand Russell?  Should we throw out Epicurean philosophy, too?  Without it, Thomas Jefferson and many of his peers (if he had any) would not have pressed the American revolution as they did, I’m fairly certain of that, but I could be wrong.

While we’re at it, should we throw out John Locke?  Daniel Dennett?  Descartes?  Spinoza?  Maybe throw out some of Plato, but not all of it.  We might want to keep the “Allegory of the Cave” story that he said Socrates told him about.  I think as lot of people need a good dose of that.

Perhaps  Lin-yutang’s core message is to call for people to think better of themselves generally, and to pull away from the “conditioning” that has convinced them of what they are not capable of doing, or even not worthy of doing.  It’s that kind of conditioning that causes people to have a low threshold of self-expectation, and keeps them from even believing they can do better.  But please don’t presume too much about that believing stuff.  Believing and truth is not always an equation.  But at the same time, neither is NOT believing always an equation with truth.  That being said, believing you can accomplish something is far more motivating than believing you cannot.  You know that yourself from experience.  We all do. 

The person who does believe, and always has believed what they are doing is the best they can do, or could be doing, is either delusional or extraordinary.  Either way, to “admit to yourself that you have always done your best” is to say you believe you cannot do better than you have already done.  Also it says that whatever you have already done could not have been improved upon no matter how much effort or thought might have been applied.  I’ve spoken with people who were severely depressed.  That’s what they believe.  They believe they’ve already done the best they could.

Oh, they don’t believe their “best” was okay; no, not at all.  What they believe, what is the ever present frustrating sensation that pulls them constantly further down, is that the very best they have ever done about anything…was pathetic.  And that belief often brings them to the very brink of self destruction.

“Best” is often arbitrary, isn’t it?  It is a perception of value.  And when it comes to values, not everyone always agrees about what is the “best”.  Maybe better than just accepting or settling for whatever mess we make of a thing, we consider what we’d have to do to fix it.  Often we can’t fix everything at once.  But when we understand what is necessary, and work to incrementally increase the quality of our average efforts towards that end, we’ll have some hope of reaching it.  Otherwise, we can hope it doesn’t matter, but then we’d usually be lying to ourselves.  So, no.  To always claim I’ve done my best would come short of a proper philosophy of living if for no other reason than it would not be the truth.

“Sometimes it is not enough to do our best; sometimes we must do what is required.”                                      ~ Winston Churchill

6 responses to this post.

  1. I agree with both the Lin-yutang and the Winston Churchill statements. As a person who has been criticized nearly my whole adult life for not being good enough, young enough, smart enough, pretty enough, financially successful, hair too knappy, skin too dark; I finally had to realize that I’m never going to live up to another person’s expectations. I’m never going to look like Beyonce or J-Lo, I’m a failure at math and always will be, (however I’m a Whiz at English Literature which is why I majored in English), I’m in my 50s so my youth is gone, and even though I probably could do better career-wise I’ve yet to find a decent job in this poor economy therefore I will more than likely be a security guard until I reach retirement age. I hate being thought of as Less-than. It hurts to be the wrong gender, the wrong race, the wrong color, etc….. After a while you begin to think what about me is right? Despite the naysayers and haters who are always pushing you and look down on people who are not millionaires and living in mansions, well I’ve done my best. This is it this is me. I finally got tired of the racism, sexism, ageism and since I lost some of the sight in my left eye folks who hate the disabled. I’ve done a lot of falling and tripping since then, but I’ve also done a lot of getting up. I know what it is to be the child of a Lesser god, to be an outcast, to be the N-word and the B-word. Hear it all the time. So whatever I attempt I do my best.

    In terms of Winston Churchill’s statement I firmly believe in doing the right thing. When my parents were ill I took care of them until they passed away. I watch over and take care of my brother Stephen who has Autism. Last year when the Gov. of New York wanted to cut the budget for developmentally disabled New York citizens I along with my brother and many others went to the state capital Albany to get our representatives to vote against this budget. I also participated in a protest held in Manhattan in front the the Gov. Cuomo’s New York City offices. My life could have went another direction. I suppose I could have gotten married, had children the so-called normal life but I don’t regret my decisions. You have the play the hand you’re dealt for better or for worse.


  2. Great article. I believe that we all can do more than what we believe. Before completing my first Tough Mudder I would have and did state that I cannot do that. The fact was that I chose to believe that until I decided to try. Now after completing 2 Tough Mudders (12 mile 24 obstacle challenge/race) I know that I can. We as human beings can do more than what we believe we can. Our minds are great things but they can either help us or hinder us. I talk often about doing things to add value to human kind. To do this we must first believe that we are better than our best. Thanks Van for sharing this.


  3. Van, I’m going to have to think about this before going much further. I will say, though, that a great friend and tennis mentor used meet me every Sunday after tournaments and his words still echo: If you’re best wasn’t good enough, you’ll have to do better.
    He wasn’t being pushy just encouraging. Now, I’ve to mull over your fine thoughts 😊 🎾


  4. Posted by Wayne Casasanta on August 24, 2014 at 9:06 pm

    “Sometimes, me thinks you think too much.” I cannot remember if Spanky or Alphafa said that. Unfortunately, it seems to be a “common” or frequent practice to be critical and negative of others, apparently for the purpose of belittling others to make one’s self appear to be superior. As a senile member of society, it seems that many people have an “entitlement” attitude, rather than a strong work ethic, which involves striving to do your best and to continue to grow, learn and to not be satisfied with the “status quo.” As Dancingwithpalms shared in her comments, she has experienced discrimination and negativism for most of her adult life; however, it appears that it has made her an even stronger person, who is willing to take a stand for the rights of others and hopefully for herself, too. Being a Christian, whose faith is in God, rather than the world, I always have to communicate that God loves EVERY person so much that He allowed His Son, Jesus, who willingly left Heaven to live a perfect life and to ultimately take my place, as well as for ALL, who believe and trust Him, on the Cross for the punishment of my sins. To know that I am so valuable to God, and He wants to have fellowship with me, causes me to NOT believe the unjustified negativism of many sources. Jesus taught us to do everything with an attitude of love and service to God and to our fellow man (and women). Being humble and demonstrating love is NOT a weakness. It is something that takes effort and consistency and usually always causes us to want to do more. Even to offer a drink of water (as well as more involved acts of service to others) in the name of Jesus, is to demonstrate our desire to follow the caring, loving example of our Lord. In reality, the world’s measurements of value and of success are far different than how God determines our worth and our actions. Have I always done my best…..NO. Am I superior to anyone else….NO. Do I want to improve to be more faithful to God….YES. We may fall short of fame and wealth by the world’s standards, but it will be nice to hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”


  5. Posted by Bonnie on August 25, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    I like what you said and wrote here. Doing what we think is our best, doing what is required and doing what we believe to be right, good and fair. Good stuff, dear brother.


  6. My husband and I often “best” ourselves by learning new skills and by practice, practice, practice in life. I can’t count how many times I thought I did my best at one point in life and then did it (whatever it might be) better at a later date. Getting better at life is what gives me the drive to continue. And when I am on my deathbed, I may utter the words, “I did my best,” but the truth is that I probably won’t have done my best, I’ll have done what I knew to do with each situation at the time I was in it. All I truly need to hear is whether or not my name is in that big book in the sky and whether or not I hear, “Well done, thy good and faithful servant.” That is all.


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