Perhaps in American culture we’re a bit too narrow in the message we send to kids about hard work. The myth goes something like this: get good grades, work hard, and you’ll be able to raise a family in a nice house and retire in style. Here’s the thing – sometimes hard working people don’t recover from the job loss, the hurricane, the medical condition, the war, or any number of things that could strike any of us at any time. Some of the hardest working people live poor and die poor. I think a better message would be, “Do the best you can with what you have.”
Karate certainly teaches us to do the best we can with what we have. My lowly belt rank should remind me of where I am – yeah, I don’t have all that much skill. Therefore I must maximize what little I have. As long as I show steady improvement over time it’s all good. At each promotion the understanding is I’m not perfect – I’m good enough to be ready for the next level of training. Be that as it may, I am most definitely expected to show my best effort.
When I’m faced with a sparring partner who outranks me by a couple belts (or more – YIKE), it’s a given I’m going to get clobbered. The expectation is that I will simply do the best I can with what I have. If I focus on the “she’s gonna wipe the floor with me” part, I rob myself of an opportunity to learn just how well I can do. I tense up, I can’t think strategically, and I miss everything that’s coming at me. I perform a teeny bit better if I focus on wise use of my resources – I might actually manage to dodge a kick or hit my partner. More to the point – I’ll be in a better frame of mind to learn whatever lesson I’m going to learn.
Doing the best I can with what I have is a very liberating concept. It blows perfectionism out of the water and calms fear. When I take a good hard look at the resources I have my focus shifts away from the negative. I become proactive, even creative. Even if it turns out what I bring to the table isn’t good enough, I’ll know that I tried. That’s a lot better than shooting myself in the foot by giving up before I even begin. And yes, my best effort will break down somewhere, but that’s OK – it means I’ll learn to be better.
Yes, I still have to work hard (my stinky sweat-soaked gi proves how hard I work), but working hard isn’t the end all and be all of my success. Yes, I’ve written about success before, and nothing I’ve written in this post negates any of that. Doing the best I can with what I have isn’t my latest magical formula for guaranteed success. It is another tool in the toolbox – along with plenty of time, hard work, and help from others. I’m not dissing striving for perfection either – I’m simply putting my drive to improve into a realistic framework. Don’t worry – I am constantly being encouraged to improve. As proof of this I offer the bruises from sparring and the stronger arm muscles from pushups.
The best I have is improving, and more so as I’ve recently discovered how freeing it is to focus on using whatever resources I have to the best advantage. As long as I’m putting one foot in front of the other I’m on the right track. I could even get knocked to the ground while I’m doing my best – proof positive that doing my best doesn’t automatically guarantee success. The trick with that is getting back up again.