“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.

Instead of a stroll down memory lane, how about a fast walk in the opposite direction?

December 23, 2019

Ahh, the holidays. . . so full of sugarplums and partridges in pear trees. . . and stress. And not just 12 days of stress, but a whole calendar’s worth of it, as the year winds down and we gear up for a new one. Like Santa’s big red bag stuffed with presents, we carry around our own big bag– ours is stuffed with memories of past holidays and past New Year’s resolutions, of the year (and now the decade) that’s past, layered with holiday-amplified grief for loved ones lost. I’m already hunched over wrapping all those presents; under the added weight of my “bag” I’m almost crushed flat.

Yes, of course there are many happy memories in there too. And if your bag is stuffed with only those, then have another glass of eggnog and thank your lucky stars. But many of us are dealing with experiences that fall somewhere in between on the spectrum of Happy and “big-T” Trauma. “Little-t” traumas and other types of heartbreak also leave their mark on us physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. I, for example, feel guilty at times that I feel so gobsmacked by my own traumas when others have much bigger challenges. But why do I feel that I don’t deserve to be as sad as others can or should be? What kind of messed up thinking is that? Let me tell you, from my vast experience on the subject, that not allowing yourself to feel all your feels will only cause more sorrow and less joy. Dashing through the holiday “snow” of parties, days off (or not), family gatherings (or family exclusions), we can focus so much on what we should be feeling that we leave no room for what we actually are feeling. We can get so hung up on the past that we waste the present trying to either recreate it or get as far away from it as possible. What if we gave ourselves permission to be just as we are, to feel what we feel, even if it’s sadness during a time of joy? That joy will itself be hard to come by if we don’t acknowledge the grief, or the fatigue, or the anxiety, or the anger. Once we own it, it will pass, and in its place will come possibility. That potential that feels like kissing a baby’s sweet little head, or like a raucous laugh that bursts out of nowhere and comes with tears and side stitches. The possibility of creating new memories in old, familiar places. Hope.

My wish for you, and for myself, is to simply feel what you are feeling during this intense time. Notice your feelings, and please don’t hide them– you are entitled to your feelings, even if they can’t be wrapped up with shiny paper and tied neatly with a festive bow. Light the candles, but acknowledge the existence of the darkness too. If hope seems like too lofty a goal, then just breathe. And breathe again. Ask for help if you need it. And be gentle with yourself.

‘Tis the season for miracles.