On The Virtue of Doing My Best

I am an ethical perfectionist. I tend to look back on complicated things that happen with people and ask myself “Did I do everything right?”. Did I make the right decisions, should I have done this, or done that, or said this in a different way, or heard that in a different way?

Some situations you eventually get to ask. You get to look back and reflect on them with the people they happened with, and figure out what you might have understood or not understood at the time. Others you don’t.

“Real life is messy, inconsistent, and it’s seldom when anything ever really gets resolved. It’s taken me a long time to realize that.”

― Hollis Mason, Watchmen

Times when I wonder about things like this, it helps me to remember that I did my best. I pretty much always do my best when it comes to trying to do right by people, so it’s a helpful mantra. No one can expect me to do any better than the best I can do, and if the best I can do isn’t good enough to perfectly figure everything out about a given situation, then it isn’t good enough. It’s still my best, and it’s still something that no one, including myself, can or should expect me to do better than.

Sometimes my best means getting to a point where I decide, for my own well-being, that I need to stop trying. Sometimes doing my best means saying “The best decision for me is to stop putting my energy into this thing.”. Those times are the most difficult ones to come to peace with, because you can always ask yourself “What if I had just tried a little bit harder, stuck it out for a little bit longer, or understood a little bit better?”. At the end of the day, though, I look back at most of my decisions and think “Yeah, I made the best decision I could with the information that I had, even when that decision was to stop trying.”.

I may never do things perfectly, and sometimes there are things I may not even do particularly well, but I usually do my best. Sometimes that means things work out, and sometimes that means I get to a point where I haven’t figured things out, but I don’t think I should put any more energy into working things out. Sometimes that decision is my best.

That is enough. It is more than enough. It is the best thing I can or could be doing, even when part of me wishes it had been enough to resolve things and it wasn’t. Even then, it was the very best thing I could do, because self-preservation is something I do both for me and for the people around me, and it is a more important responsibility than working things out in any individual situation.

The times when doing my best means self-preservation are just as commendable as the times when it doesn’t. I did my best, and that is the very most anyone can ever expect. It is okay. It is more than okay; it is my best.

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