Friday, June 4, 2010


I remember having a session with client a who was talking about her parents' attitudes toward grades. She explained that you didn't have to get all A's - you just had to do your best. But, if you did your best, you would get A's!

I've tried to be aware of that with my own children - that it's okay not to get perfect grades. But when one of them says something like, "I got 68 out of 82 correct," I usually can't help myself from wondering out loud, "What happened?" And even if I manage not to make a comment, there's a good chance that the look on my face conveys some message that they should have done better. How can I assess if they've done their best?

Actually, what does it mean to do your best? I think that the usefulness of that expression has changed over the years. After all, given the endless possibilities that seem to exist in the world as the result of the internet and other advanced technologies, it seems that no matter how much we do, we can always do more.

Plus, things aren't always so clear cut. How about the child who does his best and gets a B, while his friend barely invests any time in the assignment and pulls off an A. Or, as a client pointed out, the athlete who got a silver medal may have done her best, while the competitor who got the gold didn't do her best. It's not as easy to evaluate as we might think.

This theme has come up in some recent sessions in my practice. One client described a task she had that didn't turn out exactly the way she wanted, despite her hard work. When I suggested that she had done her best, she responded that she could have done more - made more phone calls, sent more e-mails, etc. Wouldn't that have been her best?

We went on to have a great discussion about the idea of doing your best - which can seem limitless - versus doing a "good enough" job. To me, good enough means knowing that you made a reasonable effort or that you feel a sense of integrity about your commitment to something. For example, you may decide that you'll put 12 hours into your fundraising project, and then whatever happens, happens. Or that you'll study 4 hours for your final exam, and then take the test. It might mean that you visit your sick relative twice a week, rather than every day - even though you could argue that isn't your best.

I think this topic is so important for people struggling with eating issues because of the perfectionism that often exists - either I'm perfect (I've done my absolute best) or I'm a failure (I haven't done my absolute best). But there's a lot of room in between, and if we want to preserve our quality of life, we need to find balance. How much effort leaves you feeling competent, without feeling drained?

Which reminds me to mention my recent blog postings, that have not been as frequent as I would like. My energy has been taken up with a combination of work and personal issues that required my attention, and I decided to give myself permission not to post for awhile. I suppose you could say that if I were doing my best, I could have made time to write an entry - and I could have. But I decided that waiting until I got through the month of May would honor my situation and be good enough for my readers. Hopefully you'll come back to read our blog, and if not, I can accept that!

Someone recently mentioned the children's book, The Little Engine That Could. Remember his words? "I think I can, I think I can..." and as he huffed and puffed his way up the track, he did make it. We have so many stories in our culture about setting our minds to something and never giving up. If we just try hard enough, we can achieve anything. These ideas certainly can be motivational and inspirational. But the reality is that we cannot achieve everything we set our mind to. Sometimes we don't have what it takes. Or we would have to focus on one accomplishment instead of attending to our needs in a more holistic manner.

Where are the models to teach us how to let go gracefully? To accept that as much as we might want something, there may be no way to get it - or at least it's not worth the cost it would take to get there? I'd like to see an alternative version of The Little Engine That Could that goes something like this: "I think, I can, I think I can, actually, I can't - or I choose not to - and I'm okay with that!"

Are there more models for that kind of balance than I'm able to think right now? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Eat well! Live well! Be well!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this great post. In 2007 my husband and I adopted 2 baby girls in Vietnam. They were represented to us as twins. Our adoption agency said that once the adoption was finalized in Vietnam getting immigration visas for them to enter the US would be a matter of processing paperwork.

As it turns out, our case was singled out for further investigation which included a DNA test. The test proved that the two girls were not biologically related. This put all of the girls documents in doubt and eliminated any chance for us to bring our daughters home.

We stayed in Vietnam for three months with the girls fighting through an apeals process. Eventually we placed the girls in foster care as we continued to fight for their visas in the US. We spent every dime we had and a huge amount of our family's money trying to bring them home. We hired attorneys and investigators, we did everything we could think of. In the end we had to relinquish the girls back to the orphange. In the midst of all of the personal devestation I became bitter at the American lie that if you just want something badly enough and you just keep on trying hard enough you will prevail. Failure is a lack of will or effort.

As their parent, I wasn't enough. I failed them. But eventually I learned to accept that I was working with a reality I could not change. It was not a lack of wanting or a lack of trying. It a situation I could not change. We do not need to add self blame to already devestating situations.