Your Best Is Impossible, or Why You Are All Losers, or The Cake Is a Lie

We were all taught, as kids, that winning or losing wasn’t important–instead, success was defined by doing your best. But that’s actually a much tougher standard than simply winning. Indeed, you have never done your best. Neither have I, nor has anyone else you know.

You could always have worked a little harder, done a little better. You could have studied an extra minute, run a second faster, pushed yourself a little more. You could always have done just that little something extra. But you didn’t. You settled for doing pretty well, but you never quite measured up.

For instance, if you didn’t drop dead at the finish line of the race, you could have run faster. You might not have liked it or its consequences, but you still could have done better. Maybe you made that choice deliberately, but you can’t claim to have done as well as you could. That’s actually one thing the original Marathon messenger has over our wussy modern-day runners: at least he got closer to his best than most of us.

And by the metric of best, all of us are losers. We never did our best, so we never reached the bar of success. Maybe from this we should conclude that “doing your best” is the wrong goal, that this sort of defeatism isn’t what we should teach our kids. But “do reasonably well” and “do pretty close to your best” just don’t have the same ring.

Then again, maybe I’m just being perverse and deliberately misunderstanding. Maybe nobody ever meant to actually do my best, just to get close. But it sure didn’t sound that way. Seriously, I got worked up over this when I was a teenager; realizing that I would never succeed at doing my best was surprisingly painful.