There are times when one seemingly “small” act of kindness can powerfully impact the recipient’s life for years to come. Such was the case in late October, 1963, when my Grade One teacher placed a bookmark on my desk. Printed in felt marker below a little drawing of a smiling pumpkin, was this simple sentence: “I do my best.”
I do my best. Such powerful words. Evidently, my teacher, Mrs. Whittaker, saw that I was putting forth my best effort in my work, and decided to reward me with these words of affirmation. Through this simple action, she communicated to me that doing one’s best is what counts. What’s important in life is not — “Did you do the task perfectly? Did you get 100% on the exam? Did you win the game? Did you do something better than someone else?” – but, “Did you do your best?”
“I do my best” became my approach to life throughout my school years and beyond. I aim for “excellence”, but not necessarily “perfection”. I appreciate Michael J. Fox’s thought on this: “I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.” Perfectionism generates anxiety and sets us up for disappointment and feelings of failure. Perfectionism is based on the misbelief that we can and must do everything right, all the time, which is impossible. If we put this type of expectation onto ourselves, we can feel that we have failed if we make even a small mistake, or if we get anything less than the highest possible score on a test. As a result we can be robbed of the satisfaction we could have had from enjoying what we did and simply knowing that we did our best.
An attitude of excellence, on the other hand, means saying to ourselves, “I will do the best that I can with the knowledge, ability and resources available to me .” If we choose excellence, it is not tragic if we make a mistake. We do not have to become stressed out if something we do does not turn out perfectly. If we make mistakes we can learn from them, and grow in character and ability. With an attitude of excellence, it really doesn’t matter if someone else can do something “better” than we can, because our focus is not on outdoing others, only on being and doing the best that we can. I have found that this attitude brings me a lot of contentment.
A couple of days ago, when going over my school report cards, I found the bookmark. It means so much to me, and I’m really glad I still have it. When I looked at it, I thought, “I would like to thank Mrs. Whittaker for how she influenced the direction of my life.” I don’t know how to contact her, so I got the idea that I could write this blog post and perhaps she will come across it someday. So, Mrs. Whittaker, if you are reading this, I say a big “Thank you!” to you for encouraging and challenging me to develop the lifelong habit of doing my best!
Michael J. Fox quote:
Interesting articles about perfection versus excellence: