What Does It Mean to Do Your Best?

I’m back after a long hiatus, during which I was struggling with a severe depressive episode. I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder at the age of fifteen, so it’s nothing new, though this was definitely the worst episode I’ve had in years, possibly ever. Since I’ve dealt with depression for more than half my life, I’ve developed a lot of tools to help myself stay afloat when things get rough. One of those tools - and probably the most important - is to give myself grace. To refrain from self-judgment and instead accept where I’m at and move forward with loving kindness toward myself.

So during this recent bout of depression, I’ve tried very diligently to give myself grace and not judge myself for being unable to carry out simple tasks, like making dinner or even getting out of bed. It’s an acceptance of myself, my emotions, and my circumstances, which isn’t easy, but has gotten much less difficult with practice.

And a couple weeks ago, in the process of giving myself this grace, I caught myself saying something that led to a major epiphany.

“I may not be doing my best,” I thought to myself, “but at least I’m doing what I can.”

And then, like a bolt from the blue, came this question:

What if those are the same damn thing?

What does it mean to “do your best?” I never really put much thought into that before, but once I started analyzing it, I had an important realization.

I’ve always assumed that “doing my best” meant “putting 100% of my time, effort, and energy toward accomplishing the task at hand.” And that’s incredibly problematic, because by giving 100%, I didn’t have anything - not a single, measly percent - left over for myself.

It was astounding - and very sad - to realize that for the last twelve or thirteen years, I have been operating under the harmful belief system that in order to truly be “doing my best,” I had to be completely emptying my tank and sacrificing my health and happiness - and if I wasn’t doing those things, I was lazy. I was a slacker. I wasn’t enough.

I couldn’t win, see. Either I was engaging in self-abandonment and self-harm by pushing myself to the limit, or I was beating myself up for my perceived laziness if I stopped to take care of myself. No matter which route I took, I ended up flinging hatred at myself. Is it really any wonder I broke down eventually? Looking at it from this new lens, it seems inevitable.

You see, my understanding of doing my best was all wrong. I was getting it confused with doing my most.

Doing my most implies that my value lies in my productivity alone. It entails exhaustion, burnout, overwhelm, and the unattainable quest for perfection.

Doing my best, however, can mean something different, as long as I let it. It can mean working toward a goal while doing what is best for my mind, body, and soul along the way. It can mean trusting myself enough to know when to retreat inwards for an emotional tune-up. It can mean making progress while simultaneously making sure to refill my tank - because I, like a vehicle, need fuel to move forward.

After all, if I am pushing myself to the limit, burning out, and living in a constant state of overwhelm and exhaustion…I’m not doing my best at all.

I knew something had to be done to reframe this belief system…so I have hereby rewritten the definition of what it means to do my best.

There...that feels better.

And in case you were wondering - yes, we absolutely get to do this. We are one hundred percent entitled to reframe any definitions we’ve been operating under that aren’t serving us. It is our prerogative to find ways to overcome limiting and harmful belief systems so that we can take better care of ourselves and live happier, healthier, and more fulfilled lives.

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© 2020 by Ali Owens​