What It Means to Do Your Best and Why It’s Okay to Fail in the Process
In most competitive sports, some kind of score or scoring system matters. Scoring is a metric we use to find out who “won” but also to see where we measure up personally (or as a team) in our growth. With cold, hard statistics, it is easy to find out what level at which athletes are performing. From that, they can learn where to improve.
To a weightlifter, success is measured in pounds (or kilograms) that they are able to lift well and with good quality form. For them, lifting a barbell heavier than they ever had before is what is called their “personal best” or “personal record.”
One might often hear at a gym, “My deadlift PR is 240 lbs.” Now, that lifter has a number by which to measure their future goals and triumphs. This is very simple, yes?
How exactly does this equate to doing one’s best, and who might not be weightlifters or athletes? Is there a metric we can measure for more intangible goals?
How might this be used in recovery, and is failure an option? I’ve discovered that “doing my best” is often the first step in achieving something great, but it’s not the last step.
What Doing Your Best Means
Going back to the weightlifter example, even those at a professional level with “personal bests” and records are not going to be able to adequately achieve those goals 100% of the time. Perhaps the weightlifter in question had a great breakfast, was highly motivated that day, and a specific muscle group was working at peak performance.
Any one of these factors would have assisted them in reaching their PR. This does not, however, guarantee they will be able to lift that same weight in the correct way every single time. Their “best” is tangible and knowable to them – they are aware they can do it because they have achieved it before – but it does not guarantee success across the board until the end of time. Likewise, if they get injured while performing an exercise, suddenly, their recovery might shift what their “best” means.
You might be saying to yourself, “I’m not a weightlifter – this doesn’t apply to my sobriety,” but it absolutely does, in a metaphorical sense. Society often thinks that, because we can achieve something once at our peak level, we are able to achieve that all the time.
It is easy for society or individuals to look in from the outside and scrutinize our every action, but we are not machines. We cannot perform functions perfectly on cue. Recovery is just like any repeated behavior. Practice makes perfect, but society doesn’t have to live with us every day to judge our routines.
So, we shouldn’t really be listening to their definition of success in the first place. Simply, this is an entirely personal thing. Should one be trying to achieve their best every day in our sobriety? Absolutely. Should a person also be reasonably able to accept their failures and learn from them? Unequivocally, yes.
Taking Failure in Stride
“Failure” on its face has a very negative connotation, but it is up to us to retrain our brains to recognize what exactly failure looks like and how to push through it. The first thing one should do in exploring their personal best and trying to achieve it is figure out what failure looks like to them, personally. Is “failure” synonymous with quitting in your mind?
If it is, then it’s time to disabuse you of that notion: Failure does not mean stopping, and it does not mean you are unable to achieve positive results later. As said in the hit Netflix series, Daredevil: “It ain’t how you hit the mat, it’s how you get back up.” However, the realities of failure and substance abuse are not always as portrayed in the media.
Once you have visualized what failure might be for you (i.e., drinking or using drugs, in terms of recovery), it’s important to make a plan for how YOU would get back up? Having an exit strategy is another crucial part of the failure process.
Overcoming Failure Versus Letting it Go
It’s important to note that pushing through your failures is completely different than letting them go altogether. We, as humans, have a guilt complex and tend to carry things around with us like a lead weight.
Say, for instance, you have been sober/abstinent from alcohol for six months straight. Your friends and family are proud of you, and you are likewise proud of yourself. Six months, in this instance, is your personal best and your current goal is to go six more months without a drink. Then, you fail. An acquaintance who does not know of your sobriety offers you a beer. You’re unsure how to cope with triggers. You drink the beer, and suddenly…bam! You’ve failed to reach your goal and are now back at day zero (or even negative 1) of your sobriety.
But you rally, and though you have had that one beer, you call your sponsor, tell them of your drink, and they advise you to go home and get out of the tempting situation. You make it home and continue your abstinence from alcohol for the rest of the evening.
The next day becomes officially “day one” of your sobriety again, and at your next Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, you tell the group you are one day sober at your next meeting the following day.
You have successfully picked yourself back up after a failure, meaning you’re on the other side of it in a very real way. Sometimes, relapse helps recovery. But letting go of it emotionally–that’s another ballgame entirely.
How Do You Let Go of Failure?
In this hypothetical example, would you feel shame?
Sure, you may have stumbled, but you have picked yourself back up. Do those feelings of guilt remain? Letting go of this failure means that, while you might feel great guilt or shame at your actions, you push past those feelings and achieve acceptance of the situation. Yes, you messed up. Yes, you had a drink.
This is ultimately why AA has the mantra “One day at a time.” You cannot control how others in your AA group see you – only how you see yourself. But, if they are judging you, they’re probably not adequately focusing on the most important part of their own recovery – themselves.
While it’s good to have goals, look at the famous adage,
“To err is human…”
You are a human being, and you will mess up from time to time. The other part of that quote is
“…forgiveness is divine.”
While in some cases that might mean forgiving others for their transgressions, in this way, it means to forgive yourself. You cannot fully let go of your failure until you forgive yourself for it and make it a motivation point of reference to improve and do better next time.
Stop Using Other People as Your Ruler
When measuring people’s success, it’s not like when measuring someone’s actual physical height. One ruler is used in this situation, and even with that constant, the results vary greatly. At the end of the day, a shorter person does not have less value than a taller person.
Transferring that over to the measure of a person’s best or their success—not only does the outcome vary from person to person, the tool for measurement is also different! Remember that success is a very personal thing, and what is “good for the goose isn’t good for the gander.”
While struggling with feelings of guilt and insecurity, many will look outside themselves and think, “Man, that person’s recovery is going so much better than mine…I don’t measure up.” First, it might seem like they are doing well, but you are only getting a small sliver of what it’s like to be them. For another thing, even if they are personally successful, their success does not dictate your own.
To be concise, you can try your best and still not be the best, and other people are not the make-or-break of your recovery experience—only you are.
One Day at a Time
To wrap up, everyone fails. What failure looks like in different situations to different people obviously varies, but the fact remains that every single person on this Earth fails. Think about the most successful, “together” person you know in your life – likely they have failed many times.
The secret in their success is not that they didn’t fail at all, but rather that they failed, recognized the failure, corrected the action, worked to do better next time, and forgave themselves for the error.
While it is easy to write this, it is not altogether easy to accomplish, and it certainly does not happen instantly. It has taken me many years to recognize that, even when I am doing my very best, I might fail.
Through my journey in recovery and life lessons learned while helping others, I personally feel more comfortable with failing while still actively trying to achieve my goals. In a lot of ways, accepting failure as something that might happen in pursuit of my goals makes achieving them that much easier.
But this, like all good things, needs to be approached with discipline and grace as a daily practice. As always, I wish you the best. Stay strong.
P.S. Here Are Some of My Favorite Quotes About Doing Your Best
All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence. – Martin Luther King Jr.
Beginning well is a momentary thing; finishing well is a lifelong thing. – Ravi Zacharias
We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started. – Henry Ward Beecher
The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel. – Steve Furtick
Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears. – Les Brown
Whatever happens around you, don’t take it personally. Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. – Don Miguel Ruiz
You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing and falling over. – Richard Branson
Trying to do it all and expecting that it all can be done exactly right is a recipe for disappointment. Perfection is the enemy. – Sheryl Sandberg
Do your best in the day, for the day, and then work on tomorrow when it comes. Show yourself grace and laugh at yourself. – Amber Hurdle
I sometimes fall short of being the best, but I never fall short of giving it my best. – William McRaven
At the end of the day, remind yourself that you did the best you could today, and that is good enough. – Lori Deschene
I have no regrets because I know I did my best – all I could do. – Midori Ito
A problem is a chance for you to do your best. – Duke Ellington