Sometimes my best is not good enough. Honestly, it happens more often than I really would like to admit. For decades my goal was to simply improve. I made efforts to improve my health, my skills, my understanding, my behavior. I wanted to be a better wife, mother, friend, and employee, always remembering that while no one can ever be perfect, we can all do our best.
What more could anyone ask of a person? It’s what we ask of our children when they attempt a new task, approach a challenge or prepare for a performance. We look at their sweet little faces, serious with with child-like concern, and we tell them,
“Just do your best sweetie.”
It’s what I told myself when going into a new situation, unsure of what to do or say, when I was almost certain that someone would find fault regardless of what I did or said.
“Just do your best Tam.”
Most of the time my best is enough. Sometimes it’s more than enough. A few times it’s been – dare I say it? It’s been nearly perfect.
Perfection is a drug I gave up years ago. The smiles, awards, favors, attention and praise gave me a high that I can neither describe nor fully comprehend. I thought I needed it when I was a child. In exchange for a display of proper respect, good manners, excellent grades, participation in band, orchestra, chorus, and community activities, and ability to quietly entertain myself, adults gave me complements. They said they were proud of me and they loved me. Better than that, they told my mom how lucky and blessed she was to have me. They said she should be very proud and she always told them she was. I didn’t always believe her.
After years of striving for everything I was told, both directly and indirectly, that I should strive for, I quit. I was tired of considering every possible outcome, including what my family and friends would think or say. I was like Dr. Strange, calculating multiple scenarios, hoping to choose the path that lead me to an outcome that would not end in disaster. What kind of disaster? Not war, famine, disease or destruction, but far worse to me. I didn’t want anyone to be disappointed in me.
If nothing else, my college education taught me that perfection is unattainable. By the time I graduated, I felt that perfection ws undesirable and not worth seeking. I doubted I’d ever experience the childish euphoria of constant praise from adults. More importantly, I didn’t want it anymore and stopped striving for it in my late twenties. I decided to just do my best.
The group Zion Trinity has a song called “Love Letters” in which one of the lyrics says, “You should strive to do your best better.” I feel that. I always want to do my best better. That internal push to improve my effort usually served my well. My career, education, and family have benefited from it. Still, there have been times when my best fell short of other people’s expectations. When that happened I used to feel horrible, as if I had completely failed at everything. I didn’t show it, or at least I tried not to show it. I never wanted people to know when I felt hurt because allowing myself to feel hurt felt like one more short-coming. Though I had given up on being perfect, I realized that I was still seeking approval from others.
Lately I just really don’t care and I mean that in the best way possible. As I child I wanted to be perfect out of fear. I believed that my good behavior was the reason people loved me, or at least liked me. I was afraid of what they would think if I didn’t do everything just right. As a young woman I abandoned the perceived high of approval via perfection. Instead I pursued a new high – respect via constant improvement. I decided that I’d much rather have people respect me than love me. I reasoned that seeking perfection was illogical and usually impeded me from truly feeling joy. The intelligent thing to do was to seek respect – from other people of course. “Most people will always respect someone who is constantly improving, right?” I had convinced myself that this was true.
Now, today, in this moment, I’m in the process of fully shedding the concern about what others think or say. I don’t have fear. I have power, love, and a sound mind. I care less about how I’m perceived, what people will think of me, how they will respond… I’m not worried about being weird. I’m weird sometimes. Handle it! Or don’t. It’s your choice and I don’t care what you do with it. Sometimes I laugh or sneeze too loudly. I’m awkward. I’ve never been part of the cool crowd. I drive an old minivan, my eyebrows haven’t been done professionally in over three years, and I’m rocking with cellulite. My daily make-up routine consists of lip balm and lotion. If I feel like being extra cute I’ll add some neutral colored lipstick, eyeliner and mascara.
Also, I prefer thrift stores over department stores, I hate pedicures because I’m too ticklish to let random people touch my feet, my left eye has always looked smaller than my right eye, I’m quite organized but I always have a stack of papers somewhere, and sometimes I feel completely inadequate as a wife, mother, friend, daughter, or employee. Sometimes I think there just isn’t enough sleep for some types of tired that I feel. The past three years, and especially the past eight months, have given me a real education. Though I’ve been wanting to resume my graduate studies in gerontology, I’m pretty excited about reaching this point in the independent studies program at the official School of Hard Knocks. I’m about to complete a Masters degree in Improving Myself For Myself, with a concentration in Other People’s Opinions Are Not My Concern.
I’m Tammy to people who are close to me. Sometimes Tammy wants to tell people to find a hole and fall in! Decades ago, Tammy learned how to filter her thoughts before they could escape into her words get her into trouble. Tammy also learned that the person we call Jesus isn’t just a reason to celebrate holidays. He’s truly an example for how we should live and how we should treat people. Tammy understands that while Jesus was kind, honest, and loving, he was not concerned with being nice. He did not worry about what other people thought of him because their opinions had nothing to do with his purpose.
God knows when I do all that I can or I slack off. He knows if I’m listening to Him or ignoring Him. He knows when I’m being lazy and when I’m being diligent. My best may never be good enough for people and that’s alright. I give myself some slack. I forgive myself for creating my own burdens by binding my happiness to other people’s expectations. I’ve learned to do my best because I want to do my best. It doesn’t have to be good enough for anyone but me.