We learned when we were children that we should always try our best. Yet somewhere between kindergarten and the career world we start cutting corners, saving ourselves and our best work for some other purpose than the one that’s here now.
So how can you get back on track? Take a look at how you approach your work, art, relationships, even those mundane every-day moments, and identify when and why you’re holding yourself back. We all do it, and it’s not hard to see why: giving all of your heart is dangerous, terrifying and exhausting. It’s also the only way to reveal the true extent of you talents – to others and to yourself. Don’t let fear stifle your best self. Find out what’s holding you back, and you’ll be surprised at how much will change.
Believe it or not, a major obstacle to doing our best is our desire to be great. We set a certain standard for ourselves, and when we’re overwhelmed, tired or otherwise uninspired, there’s a kind of surrender that takes place. It’s a form of self-protection, and the justification goes something like this: if I only put fifty percent into this project, and everyone picks it apart, well I knew I could do better anyway.
We figure if we never give a hundred percent, we can never completely fail. This mindset manifests in procrastination and half-efforts – it often drives people to give up before they’ve begun. Doing your best makes you vulnerable. If someone detects a flaw in your best work, it hurts — it means they’ve found a flaw in you. But the cost of holding back is far higher.
Think what would happen if we approached everything is such a way – as if we were saving our best efforts for another time. You know your car is perfectly shiny under all that grime, but why risk revealing a scratch or two by washing it? It’s the same when you let fear of failure dampen your best efforts. By protecting yourself from revealing weakness, you guarantee that you will never reveal strength, either. And all that really does is hinder your potential, which you’ve safely locked away where no one can find it. Remember – you are what you do, not what you privately believe you have the potential to do.
Famous potential failures
The irony here is that the people who have achieved some kind of greatness are the ones who were willing to risk colossal failure. Think Edison shrugged his shoulders after an attempt or two at the light bulb and moved on to something else? What about The Lord of the Rings trilogy? Do you suppose Peter Jackson skimped on effort on his 270 million dollar epic so he would have a ready excuse in the face of criticism? It certainly would have made it easier to brush off a bad review: “No one seems to like it, but for something we threw together, it’ll do.” Not a chance. These people have to commit to themselves (and to others) that they will give each project everything they are, and that their best will be enough. That’s why they’re great, and that’s why they get results.
Many people, especially those who are naturally intelligent and who learn quickly, can often get by at half mast. When fifty percent gets it done, it’s easy to save the other half. But even when you’re half-efforts exceed the bar, you’re still cheating yourself. Satisfaction comes when we exceed our own expectations, not simply meet those of others.
You might be able to get the job done, maybe even better than most people’s best efforts, but that attitude will keep you from discovering your potential. Don’t set the bar too low (or let others set it for you). In fact, the bar has nothing to do with you – ignore it. Just be your best. Then push yourself a little further.
You never know
Your greatest successes will always come when you least expect it. If you still need a reason to give all of yourself to each thing you do, remember that you never know who’s watching. Maybe the task at hand doesn’t require much of you, isn’t paying enough or doesn’t have much competition. Who cares? Attack it with everything you have. You’ll be surprised at how many breaks come when someone takes notice of some seemingly unimportant project…that you just happen to be approaching with everything you have.
People are no exception. Treat each person you meet with respect, and always put your best foot forward. If you save your courtesy and your cleverness for someone of importance, you’ll never know what you’re missing. The person who can help you the most may be hiding in plain sight, to say nothing of the solid friendships and lasting relationships you could be missing each time you hold something of yourself back.
Go ahead. Try it. Give all of yourself to each and everything you bother doing. You have nothing to lose but wasted potential, and an opportunity to gain something unexpected with every undertaking.
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