One way or another, at some time or another and at the worst possible time, adversity will show up at your door. Depending on the way you handle it, whether it is physical, spiritual, or emotional, adversity can be your friend or foe. Facing adversity can make you or break you.
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven played music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
From the time he was little, I’ve encouraged my son to do his best. Whether in school, doing chores around the house, or when helping another, I’ve stressed that giving his best effort is always important.
Some might say that I’ve put too much pressure on my son, that he can’t always be great at everything he does. But this is where thinking sometimes gets confused, leading to an incorrect understanding and focus.
Being the best
Asking my son to do his best, and asking him to be the best, are two very different things. He couldn’t possibly be the best at everything, nor should that be the goal. But he can always do his best.
Being the best involves an element of competition, whereby you compare what you do to what another does. It requires focusing more on the outside world, and less on the inside one.
When you focus on being the best, it naturally involves putting yourself first, rather than thinking of others first. As a result, you may begin to lack compassion for others in your quest.
To be the best, you must look out for your own vested interests above all else, something that requires always looking over your shoulder to make sure no one is outdoing you. And when you compare what you do against what others do, rather than against what is truly right or wrong, you may find yourself out of alignment with your values.
Your heart often becomes uneasy as you strive to outdo others, and you may find that your mind churns even at night, and your sleep suffers as a result.
Living this way is not only stressful, it’s downright exhausting.
Doing your best with all your heart
Doing your best means giving your all, and going about whatever you endeavor with your whole heart. No matter how hard the task may be, it’s important to strive forward with focus and determination.
David Erichsen, on his website Lifehack, says: “Doing your best is synonymous with living out each and every moment to its fullest potential. And this potential exists in every situation you encounter in your life. All that is required of you is not to fight whatever life throws your way.”
Doing your best is a virtue. It not only fills you with a sense of accomplishment, but serves to strengthen the good things in us. It takes resolve and determination, focus, and perseverance, as well as a great deal of self-discipline. Things such as patience, honesty, ingenuity, and being thoughtful and considerate of others are also required. And sometimes, it even involves blood, sweat, and tears.
Some of the most successful and well-respected coaches in sports, in whom many of these qualities can be found, understand this. They know that even in competition, core values are vitally important — things like hard work, self-sacrifice, and thinking of others.
The great Herb Brooks, who coached the underdog U.S. hockey team to victory against the highly favored Soviets in the 1980 Olympics, had this to say: “I looked for people first, athletes second. I wanted people with a sound value system, as you cannot buy values. You’re only as good as your values. I learned early on that you do not put greatness into people … but somehow try to pull it out.”
Phil Jackson, the all-time winning coach for basketball championships, having coached both the L.A. Lakers and Chicago Bulls to multiple victories, said: “Once you’ve done the mental work, there comes a point you have to throw yourself into the action and put your heart on the line. That means not only being brave, but being compassionate towards yourself, your teammates, and your opponents.”
Even in competitive sports, great coaches recognize that attributes such as bravery and compassion for others are necessary.
Doing your best takes effort, and at times, it can be just plain hard. Be it mentally or physically, it can test your endurance and push you to your limits. It may require reaching beyond what you thought you were capable of and for a search deep within for strength and clarity.
As the great Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz said: “Show me someone who has done something worthwhile, and I’ll show you someone who has overcome adversity.”
While it may not be easy, I think most of us would agree that when you lay your head down at night, you sleep better knowing that you’ve tried to do your best that day. It fills a deep need in your soul in a way that nothing else can.
Look for the lesson
In striving to do your best, things may not always work out as you’d like. But even if the results aren’t great, if you remember to focus on the process rather than the result, you can see it’s really in the process that you learn and grow. No matter the result, you can reflect on what you’ve learned and use that to help you improve and do even better the next time.
In fact, it’s often in your failures and difficulties that you learn the most.
Even knowing this, there have been times when I’ve tried to protect my son from hardship. I’ve come to understand that doing this was more about me and less about him. While it might be hard for me to see him fail or go through a difficulty, if I shield him from all of life’s hardships, he’ll never learn how to handle them. In reality, when I try to make his life too easy, I rob him of valuable lessons that were meant to help him improve.
It is in your adversities that you grow stronger, learn how to do better, and develop your moral character. As Mahatma Gandhi said: “Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.”
Life inevitably has its share of ups and downs. If I don’t give my son the chance to experience this, and to learn how to handle adversity and develop resiliency, how will he ever manage life’s challenges as an adult?
When you face adversity, this is when you stop and reflect within. Your tribulations, hard though they may be, are truly a gift, if you can allow your mind to view them as such. As a quote from Arthur Golden says: “Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.”
People have seen their lives turned upside down by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, popularly known as COVID-19, and some have even lost their loved ones. There are other hardships as well, be they the loss of a job and income, concerns over keeping yourself and those you love healthy, the pressure of homeschooling your children, and uncertainty of what the future holds.
Having been mandated to remain within the confines of your home, you may struggle with the loss of human contact and companionship as well. But since you have been forced to slow down and put things on pause, perhaps you can view this as an opportunity to reflect within.
Taking a closer look at your thoughts and actions can help reveal where you can improve. For example, when life was busier, perhaps you were not doing your best to take care of your health or watching your thoughts and actions.
Maybe you’d let anger, fear, or jealousy control your thoughts and behaviors. By using this time to take an honest look at your heart and mind, you can make sure you are aligning with the values you want to uphold.
In doing so, maybe you can be a little kinder to your neighbors, help someone else when you see the chance, call to check in on those you care about, and ultimately remember what is truly important in life. By holding good things in your heart and mind, and by taking good care of your health, you are less vulnerable to illnesses of not just the body, but of the mind and spirit as well.
The ancients believed that when tribulations befell a society, it was a wake-up call, a sign from the heavens, warning people that the morals and values of society had degenerated to a dangerous point. It was understood that when the people recognized their wrongdoing, felt sincere remorse, and were determined to improve themselves and do what is right and good, the calamity would be resolved and blessings would follow.
Perhaps you, too, are being given a chance to improve your heart, to let go of what is self-serving, and do what is right and just — to truly do and be your best. While modern ways of thinking may find these things hard to believe, this pandemic is certainly enough to give you pause to think things over. The fundamental principles of right and wrong are eternal and still apply today.
You have a purpose and a strength that you may not even recognize. you have resiliency and goodness within. When you experience difficulties, when things are tough or don’t turn out as you’d like, you learn. Falling down and picking yourself up is part of the process. Through this process — falling, getting back up, and growing — you learn to do better, and be a better person.
Mind your thoughts and actions
Conversely, if you take the easy way out, you may become lazy, complacent, and perhaps even apathetic. In taking this path, you never truly feel good about yourself, at least not deep down inside. While you may have gotten away with something, gotten something over on someone, or moved ahead of another, where does this really get you in the end? In harming another, in wanting something for nothing, or when you don’t put forth an effort, who you really harm is yourself.
The danger in striving to be the best is that you may not actually be doing your best. If you see others getting ahead, you could find yourself doing whatever it takes to achieve your goal. You may even lessen your own standards for yourself, forgetting that you should abide by certain values, for, after all, being the best is what matters most.
With this focus, you may cut corners, infringe upon others, put your work onto another, or worse. If the goal is to outdo others in order to be the best, then you may do any manner of things — from lying, to cheating, to stealing.
It’s long been held that hard work and doing your best builds character, something the older generation knows very well. They were raised with it.
I came across these wise words in The Wisconsin Farmer, dated February 14, 1908: “A thoughtful writer says: ‘We cannot all have talent, we cannot all have great powers, we cannot all do great work, but we can all, by slow and patient endeavor, build up character, which may do good work, even though it may be small and humble. We do not improve the character of anybody else in any other way so well as by improving our own character, and that is in the power of each one of us; we can begin at once, and we can always go on with this work, wherever our lot is cast.’”
Though what you do may not be great or grand things, and while you may not excel at everything you do, if you strive to do your best, to do good work no matter how menial the task may be, you will be better for it. Whatever your job or role in life may be, whether the president of a company or the janitor of a company, you should always do things to the best of your ability.
Joshua Becker, on his blog Becoming Minimalist, discusses putting in your best effort, even for tasks you may not love. He says: “I understand that not every job is enjoyable, and feeling motivated to work hard comes easier to someone who looks forward to punching in the clock each morning (or evening).
Sometimes, you are required to do work you do not enjoy. If that’s you, please remember, your enjoyment of work does not diminish the inherent value in it.”
By realizing that even the smallest task has value, perhaps you can find the motivation to give your best effort and to look more deeply at what can be learned from the experience.
Becker goes on to say: “If you are working a job you hate in order to provide for your family, you are doing a noble thing and should be commended. And working hard at it, in the place you are today, is your most important step out of it.”
Being the best and doing your best does not have to be mutually exclusive; it’s your heart and intentions that matter. Sometimes, in striving to do your best, you may naturally find yourself in a better place for having given of yourself, for pushing yourself, even when it’s physically or mentally challenging.
But even more importantly, when you know that you’ve done your best, that you’ve given your all, you are sure to have few regrets.
The next time a task or a situation presents itself, even if it’s one you don’t like or don’t relish doing, try putting forth your best effort, such that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to take notice, and see what happens. You may just find that you learn and grow and succeed in ways you never imagined!