Story: I Only Have to Worry about Doing My Best.

This week’s video story: I only have to worry about doing my best.

It was a big relief to me to think — well, my friend is right, I don’t have to worry about being qualified. That’s the Justice‘s problem! It’s hard to explain why that made such a difference to me. All we can do is our best, and I’ve found that when I focus on that, I’m much less anxious, and also more productive.

Has anyone managed to say the perfect thing to you — the thing that really helped you? I think about my husband saying, to a colleague who sent out a very unfortunate “Reply all” email,  “We’ve all done it.” Or my mother telling me, when I was in a frenzy of last-minute wedding plans, “The things that go wrong often make the best memories.”

Or better yet, have you ever found the perfect words to say?

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  • isabellagarden

    One busy finals week in college I had papers to finish writing and exams to study for, and I felt like I was coming completely unglued. My boyfriend put his hands on my shoulders, looked me straight in the eyes, and quietly and firmly said, “all you can do is the best you can do in the time that you have.” It’s been 35 years since I got that advice and I think of it whenever I’m under a time constraint, whether it’s 2 min or a month. My grown children are familiar with that quote since I’ve said it to them all their lives. That’s all any of us can do in life: the best we can do in the time that we have.

    • gretchenrubin

      Love this story!

    • I love this quote, but I know I’d be stressing about ‘how do I know whether what I’m doing is actually my best — what if I can do better?’.

  • KG

    When I was in college I worked at a grocery store with an older man from Ethiopia. I don’t even remember what the problem was that I was discussing with him, but he said “A man who has a problem he can do nothing about does not have a problem.” I love this phrase, and use it all the time. If I can’t possibly fix it, why worry about fixing it.

  • Jeannie

    The universe seems to delight in messing with us when we want an event to be “perfect.” So, in our house, the slogan always is, “It’ll either be a bad experience, or it will make a great story!” Kind of puts everything back into perspective, e.g. we are never “in control” of anything in life.

  • Beth Anderson

    The timing of this video story is perfect. I have an important interview tomorrow and although I feel good about my qualifications, I will remember that my job is to simply do my best. (That said, I sure hope they decide that I am qualified for the job!)

  • Sometimes words cannot express what needs to be said. When I was having a hard time with my parents, my boyfriend drove me up to this hill that I had never been there before. It overlooked a mountain valley. We sat there on a bench and watched the sun set. Basically he was saying “everything is going to be just fine.”

    I also don’t meant to dodge the question, merely to reframe it: has someone ever said or made a gesture that was just perfect? If so, the answer is yes.

  • rubyratt

    When I left my last job after 8 very good years my boss said to me, “Don’t sell yourself short.” He had always given me lots of praise for being the best dental assistant he’d ever had. When I moved to a new city and job hunting became an absolute dead end, I kept this in mind. When I finally got an interview, I was offered the same job at a ridiculous wage. In my desperation I nearly accepted, but those words kept running through my mind. I turned down the job and less than a few days later, I was hired as the office manager and at a mutch better rate. His words of confidence were all I needed, and continue to think about daily.

  • I also feel much less anxious and feel more productive when I just focus on doing my best. It also helps alleviate the pressures I feel from other people’s expectations of my performance, because to some extent it also falls into the category that at the end of the day there will always be someone not satisfied. Therefore, I just remind myself to let go and focus on my own expectations of myself.

  • Jamie

    I was a teenager crying over my body (don’t all teenagers do this at some point?) My dad caught me crying and I told him what I was upset about and he said “If that’s the worst thing that happens to you, consider yourself lucky.” So helpful! Because it’s true. We all have things that we can become fixated on with our appearance, but truly in the grand scheme it’s NOTHING! My dad’s comment continues to help me to this day.

  • Penelope Schmitt

    I have to say that ‘doing my best’ in my younger years seemed like a demand for a grace beyond the reach of art. I never could get to the point where I felt I had done enough to say it was truly my best. I had to learn not to keep striving for perfection, and to learn that I could define the ‘finish line’ somewhere reasonable. Now, my best is more likely to be represented by the effort to learn something new or do it better than I did the last time, not to strive for a platonic ideal.

  • Judy

    Sometimes we can be so stressed about doing our best we cannot actually achieve ‘best’. How about just concentrating on ‘doing’,and the best will probably follow.

  • Rebecca
  • Kay

    It was you Gretchin who said the perfect thing to me in your book “The Happiness Project.” Many things resonated with me and your book has changed my life (not drastically, but in small helpful ways). “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” was like a lightening bolt to me. It made so much sense and since reading your book last December I say this to myself at least once a day. I didn’t realize how much time I was wasting on things until I read that quote. It has saved me tons of time and energy. So for that, I am truly grateful and I thank you.

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m thrilled to hear that it struck a chord with you.

  • Nicole

    I had always wanted to be a teacher and was considering going back to school at night. Discussing it with my best friend I told her that the class schedule would take a really long time to complete. “If I do it, I’ll be 35 by time I finish,” I said exasperated.
    “How old will you be if don’t do it?” she asked.
    I signed up the next day.

    • gretchenrubin

      Love it!

    • Molly

      My father always says this. Even if you think you’re too old to do something, that time will pass anyway, and you may as well have the degree (or whatever else) when it does pass.

    • AnnaKate

      My friend wanted to get a degree that would take 7 years to do. She never started the degree because it would take too long. 20 years later she worked at a job she hated. Her point was 7 years still went by (She still lived it). And without the degree she still had to put in the time. And now she wishes she had just done it, because she would have lived the 7 years and had a degree to use to do the job she was now 20 years later wishing she was doing.

  • Molly

    Here are a couple I like:

    EVERYTHING POPULAR IS WRONG. Oscar Wilde. Reading that quote was so
    great for me, and I think about it often when I am starting to follow
    the herd with my son.(I actually bought a print off etsy with the quote
    and have it hanging in my kitchen.) (Before I ever found that quote, I
    said something similar to myself…at my baby shower, everyone was
    saying I was carrying a girl, and they were quite emphatic. Until my
    shower, that’s what I thought as well. But after, I said, “45 people
    can’t be right,” and I started to think it was a boy…and it was!)

    YOU KNOW KIDS, THEY’RE SO RESILIENT. After my son’s first scary illness as a baby (he developed croup), I was in a coffee shop, and still feeling a bit shaken about the week I had been through. I started talking to a group of older ladies, and when we stopped, one of them turned back to me and said, “You know kids, they’re so resilient.” It was almost like an angel or wise sage placed there to say that to me precisely at that moment. While I still worry when my son is sick, I still see her turning and saying that to me when he is sick and it relieves some of the worry.

    Sometimes, I think, it’s how something as said as much as what is said that sticks with us! The experience of that woman stands out as much as what she said.

  • Lynn

    My grandmother was one of those people who didn’t talk a lot, but what she did say was always worth listening to. Several of her sayings are always with me, but the one I call upon the most is when she was teaching me how to ask for help. She asked me “Do you want to feel bad about what you can’t do or good about what you can do?” I remember her smiling at me, reminding me that no one can do everything well. “That’s why we have each other. Together, we can do anything.”

  • Amanda

    “If you’re going to laugh at it a year from now, laugh at it today.” My first boss and long-time mentor used to say this as one of his “Rules of Life.” He passed recently and I was reminded of this saying during his funeral. These words still make me smile 15 years after I first heard them.

  • BR

    Once before walking into a big oral exam I was a nervous wreck and called my best friend for some support. I said ” Patricia, I don’t have much time for a pep talk but I really need a good one, you have one minute, go!”
    She answered me: “minimum pass grade is 4, get a 5, everything else is just vanity! now go!”
    This may sound like not so good advice but for a total overachiever like me (and she knows very well that I am one) it was music to my ears. To have “permission” to only do good enough.

  • Abi Weaver

    Gretchen, I always love your insights, lessons and stories, but I am afraid that this one puts too much emphasis on the opinions of others. I wish the story was only about doing our best, but you also gave permission to others to judge our worthiness. We are always enough.