"Always Do Your Best": Always or Never?
November 30, 2006
Don Miguel Ruiz' Four Agreements, and the book he wrote about them, have had a powerful influence on my perceptions, thoughts, feelings and actions (reflected in a number of blog posts, as well as the Values statement for Interrelativity, my closed-down start-up) over the two years since I first encountered them:
- Be Impeccable With Your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
- Don't Take Anything Personally: Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.
- Don't Make Assumptions: Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
- Always Do Your Best: Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.
I find all four of these agreements inspiring and challenging, and have always struggled the most with the last one. In the book, Don Miguel elaborates in some ways that are very appealing, e.g.,
Doing your best is taking an action because you love it, not because you're expecting a reward. ...
When you do your best, you learn to accept yourself. But you have to be aware and learn from your mistakes. Learning from your mistakes means you practice, look honestly at the results, and keep practicing. This increases your awareness.
I'm all for intrinsic (vs. extrinsic) motivation, and believe that everything we do is a practice. I also believe in [the art of] making mistakes wakefully ... and, somewhat paradoxically, also believe that there are no mistakes, only lessons.
I am a perfectionist by nature, if not nurture, and [so] I can look back on any action (and many perceptions, feelings and thoughts), and see how I could have done better, if only I'd been more mindful, attentive, considerate, thoughtful, actful, perceptive, prepared, thorough, etc. I don't know if I can reflect upon anything I've done (/seen/felt/thought) and honestly say that I did my best ... I could always have done better.
Don Miguel offers an exculpatory perspective: "Your best will sometimes be of high quality, and other times it wll not be as good." But can it ever be of the highest quality? And if, other times, it is not "as good", doesn't that mean it could have been better ... and thus, not my best?
As far as I can determine, I'm either always doing my best -- and so, trying to do my best is moot (at best) -- or I'm never doing my best -- in which case, trying to do my best may be futile (at worst). This is all closely related to my ongoing dilemma about acceptance and striving -- accepting myself exactly as I am while, simultaneously, always wanting to be[come] better (and I'll note that this acceptance dilemma arose in a New Year's Eve Party discussion last year, and this "always do your best" dilemma arose in a post-Thanksgiving Party discussion this year ... so I may not be the ideal invitee to a holiday celebration ... I tend to gravitate toward large talk rather than small talk).
My Warrior Monk training has left me [a bit] more open to accepting -- if not (yet) embracing --paradoxes, and so the dilemma of whether I'm always or never doing my best doesn't keep me awake at night. However, given how compelling I find the other three agreements proposed by Don Miguel Ruiz, I'm wondering whether I'm missing something obvious (perhaps I'm not doing my best here :-).
I never presume that anyone is reading my blog ... but if anyone does happen to stumble across this, and feels inclined to sharing any wisdom (or confusion) on the topic, I'm very eager to gain greater clarity on this issue.