“I’m doing the best I can”- How I went from hating that phrase to embracing it

November 28, 2022

It’s been a minute since my last blog post; I’m happy to dive back in with a few thoughts that are too wordy for my Instagram or Facebook feeds. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a recovering perfectionist. So it should come as no surprise that the phrase “I’m doing the best I can” was abhorrent to me. I hated it- it reeked of settling, smelled like a lame excuse, and set the bar so low that anyone who believed this deserved pity. If that sounds harsh to you, check and see what your inner critic sounds like when you say the inside part out loud– not very nice, I daresay. If you find comfort in telling yourself that you’re doing the best you can, celebrate that- it’s true! If not, read on. . .

The tide started turning for me thanks to Life. Life happened, sad and bad things happened that were beyond my control, no matter how hard I tried. I kept doing everything I could (including beating myself up, not sleeping, overthinking, and self-doubting), but nothing worked. I strived so hard, something finally broke in me. I experienced a moment of connection to the very idea I had always despised- it was fleeting, but there it was- a definite felt sense that I was doing the best that I could (and I couldn’t do any better than that). It was disorienting, to say the least. Something deep down inside finally had had enough of my inner critic’s abuse and fought back. Yes, all along other people were either pointing out what I had done well or offering kind words and loving support when things went awry; I just hadn’t been offering that to myself (or allowing myself to take their kindnesses to heart).

With this brief but monumental shift in perspective, something else fell into place: the fact that I was human. As I say to my clients/thinking partners, I haven’t yet discovered a work-around for being human. And being human = being imperfect. Making mistakes. Bearing witness to so much sadness and so much joy. What exactly is the point in fighting reality? Such wasted energy, when our energy is sorely needed to help others, to heal ourselves and the world around us. It was rediscovering this “witness” part of me, or Self, or soul or whatever you want to call it, that allowed me the grace to relax into my own humanity. Being middle-aged certainly helps with that, although it’s not a given that added years = subtracted suffering. That takes intentional effort (and can happen even when you’re younger). For that’s what fighting against our humanness is- suffering. “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional”- that’s another phrase (attributed to various wise humans) that speaks the truth. Learning how to strip suffering from living is a skill best learned in community, in partnership- that’s where true healing takes place. Acknowledging our humanity isn’t about settling, it’s about creating- new possibilities, renewed energy, sacred potential. If your mind is rebelling at the thought, check in with your body- what do these words feel like to you?

One tentative step further along this path leads us out of embracing our flaws and into exploring our complexity- the “both/and”-ness of our reality. Dr. Marsha Linehan created Dialectical Behavior Therapy using her own experiences with mental illness and various treatment modalities; one of the tenets of DBT is the ability to hold seemingly opposing thoughts together at the same time. “I’m doing the best I can- and I can do better.” In the beforetimes, I couldn’t swallow that pill without a heaping dose of self-judgment. . . If I can do better, then I can’t possibly be doing the best I can– or can I?? Doesn’t the latter extinguish the former? Admittedly it’s a bit of a mind fuck at first; I encourage you to check in with your body and see what sensations show up. Also, remember that our minds are awe-inspiring in their complexity- so why not hold two opposing thoughts as true at the same time? Can you find a part of yourself that knows that, at any given moment, you’re doing the best you can? And is there another part (or maybe it’s the same one) that knows you could do better– WITHOUT JUDGMENT?? Just curiosity? Hmmm. Fascinating.

Let me admit that typing this- or any other blog post- nudges my perfectionist part and sets it humming, just a little bit. So, I’m being intentional and giving that part a gentle hug while forging ahead. . . . It does actually feel good giving myself a break, knowing that “I’m doing the best I can” and really believing that that’s good enough. As we’re heading into December and the holiday/end of year rush, wouldn’t it feel good to believe that for yourself? I believe it for you- so you don’t have to do this alone. I’ve got you.

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