“Always try your best” is a sage piece of advice almost every parent has shared with their kids. This saying is seemingly innocent, but in reality it’s not. When we really examine what we are saying, we’ll realize its inherent contradiction.
Let’s say we are trying to take our own advice and always do our best. I’m a married man with kids. I’m trying to be the “best” husband that I can be to my wife. I’m also trying to be the best father to my kids, the best neighbor to my neighbors, the best psychologist to my clients, the best blogger for my readers (the few, the proud…!), the best brother to my sisters, the best runner that I can be, the best supervisor to my interns, and so on. Now, you can probably see how ridiculous AND inherently contradictory this is. At a certain point, being the best husband comes into conflict with being the best colleague at work, the best blogger, etc. I just can’t be the best at all of them – it’s an impossibility!
I don’t always try my best. More so, I aim for “good enough.” I calibrate my effort depending upon the nature of the task and the need (or desire) to do well on the task. Sure, sometimes I try my best, but certainly not every time.
So, what do we really want from our kids? Suppose your high school son has two big finals the next day – one in chemistry and one in history. He has an 69 average in chemistry and a 97 in history. When studying the night before, should he “try his best” in both classes? With limited time available and being on the brink of failing chemistry and earning a high “A” in history, it would seem that he should spend more time in chemistry to ensure that he passes the class rather than history.
Ultimately, we want our kids to make mindful, judicious decisions in life. After all, time is a limited resource, and it is critical that they learn how to spend it wisely. Our kids need to learn when it is important to turn on the juice, and when they can take their effort down a few notches. Personally, I prefer the advice: Don’t always work hard. Work smart. But I’m sure we can poke some holes in that one, too.
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