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Stop Doing Your Best

When was the last time you were asked, "Did you do your best?" Or maybe you consoled yourself with, "At least I did my best."? I think it's a pretty common sentiment whether at work or play. Doing one's best seems like the benchmark of good and faithful work.

Yet is it really the question we ought to ask? Who defines what "best" is? I believe trying to do our best is a fool’s errand – a fruitless undertaking. In my blog post, “What Do You Expect?” I wrote:

If the expectation is to do one’s best then there is nothing to celebrate when we achieve our goal! We did our best - that’s what was expected. If we admit to not doing our best then we experience shame in addition to disappointment.

Additionally, when we feel we have done our best and fail to achieve our goal we console ourselves saying we did our best. But who likes to admit that their best wasn’t good enough? Does saying we've done our best serve as a tonic for our ego and shut down reflection on our experience?

I think we can find a more effective evaluation tool.

Don’t Follow Your Passion Either

In my quest for a better question I considered passion's role in motivating us to perform at our peak. I love hearing a person share their passion, whether I find the topic interesting or not! Their passion is energizing. So is a better question, "Did I work with passion?"

In his 2019 article for the Harvard Business Review, “3 Reasons It’s So Hard to Follow Your Passion,” Jon M. Jachimowicz, an assistant professor of Business Administration in the Organizational Behavior Unit at Harvard Business School, wrote:

Research on passion suggests that we need to understand three key things: (1) passion is not something one finds, but rather, it is something to be developed; (2) it is challenging to pursue your passion, especially as it wanes over time; and (3) passion can also lead us astray, and it is therefore important to recognize its limits.

In addition to passion changing over our lifetime (I’ll add because of the transition process in response to a life change), it also undermines our performance through overwork and burnout because our passion gets noticed and we receive additional assignments! Passion may also lead to overconfidence and disregard for feedback loops from coworkers and customers.

Sigh. The question, "Did I work with passion?" doesn't seem like a better way of evaluating one's performance.

Did I maximize my potential?

I propose a more helpful question is, "Did I maximize my potential?" Maximizing one's potential combines the energy received from our passion with the desire to perform at our best while accounting for the context around the situation. The question invites reflection that leads to a deeper self-understanding and action steps for improvement. It also allows a healthy celebration of results.

Seeking to maximize one's potential incorporates a deep sense of awareness for the present moment. This awareness invites us to recognize tasks for which ‘good enough’ is all that is needed so we can apply our full attention and energy to more objective-critical matters. With practice, we begin triaging daily challenges and opportunities by priority AND criticality through the lens of our potential.

Maximizing Your Potential

Using the metaphor of horse racing, I propose the following three steps to assist us in maximizing our potential.

1. Harness Your Passion (Practice Awareness)

Imagine a jockey preparing to ride a thoroughbred. In her excitement, she opens the gate and yells, “Hah!” and the horse bolts off without her. With a nod toward Yankee's great, Yogi Berra, the horse isn't going anywhere in particular but sure makes good time!

Before launching into your day or into a task, take time to harness your passion by 1) slowing your thinking and reflecting on big picture objectives. What are the critical and achievable action steps you can accomplish today, this week, this month in light of your context? 2) Consider your emotions. Identify the energy behind them. Is it positive and constructive or negative and destructive? 3) What’s the source of these emotions? Is inner self-talk helping you prepare or undermining you with doubt?

2. Take the Blinders Off (Practice receiving feedback)

A jockey puts blinders on the horse to block out distractions so that the primary feedback the horse receives is from him.

Like blinders, a narrow focus on one particular goal or a sense of over confidence in one's abilities, may prevent us from seeking feedback from colleagues, friends, and competitors. To stay on track, we need feedback from others. A 'maximize my potential' mindset understands the value feedback plays in enhancing one's performance and incorporates scheduled times to seek it out.

3. Enjoy the Winner’s Circle (Practice celebration)

When a jockey and horse win a race, the horse isn’t led back to the starter’s gate for another race! The horse receives a flower blanket and time is taken for celebration.

Several Januarys ago, after worship, I noticed a member of my church standing by himself. I greeted him with a “Happy New Year” to which he shrugged, “Yeah. Whatever.” When he noticed my confusion he said, “My department finished last year $1.5 million above our annual goal. We had an amazing year! This past week during a production meeting I reminded my manager of this result. His response? ‘Do better this year.’ That was it. No congrats. Nothing. Just do better.” His deflated body language communicated disappointment and fatigue.

Seeking to maximize our potential includes scheduled times of celebration. We focus on what we achieved rather than how much or little progress we made toward our goal. Taking a break from the race for celebration provides a sense of accomplishment and encouragement. Did you persevere through an unexpected barrier? Congratulations! How will you celebrate? Celebration, like feedback, is intentionally scheduled. You always have something to celebrate and every disappointment offers opportunities.

Saddle Up

Seeking to maximize our potential combines the benefits of following our passion with our desire to perform at our peak. It emphasizes process over goal; the journey over the destination. Helping my clients maximize their potential is my primary goal as a coach. If you’d like support maximizing your potential, schedule a Welcome to Coaching session with me today. Stop doing your best. Start maximizing your potential! Let’s ride!

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1 Comment

Tom Pietz
Tom Pietz
Mar 30, 2023

This is very helpful as I work with my daughter towards her pursuit to become a nurse. Ultimately, how do we maximize her potential to reach that goal. It reminds me on how I structure my life, the hours of my day, so that I am thriving so to be able to love and serve others with plenty in the tank.

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