Doing Your Best And Sometimes Not

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Can we always be at our best? Is it possible? The reality is that while we strive to do our best and put our best foot forward, sometimes we will still feel that we have fallen short. As imperfect people, we need to remember that it’s not perfection that we should be seeking, but it is rather to deliver to others in such a way that we remain true to ourselves and true to the direction we intend to go. Instead of constantly fighting against the current and striving for perfection, to remain as close as possible to what we know we’re best at. The place where we know, “I’ve got this.” A favorite quote by Henry David Thoreau reminds me of this every day. “Dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows.”

Even after years as a speaker and over thirty years as a professional portrait photographer, I still have those moments of nervousness before an engagement or photo shoot. Mind you, it’s not a paralyzing nervousness; it’s a nervousness that is rooted in caring. Caring about being at one’s best and doing a good job can create a nervousness. Heck, that type of caring can even make one have momentary lapses in confidence. However, it’s that type of commitment to being the best — being the best that you- we- I -can be, that makes us great at what we do. By letting go of the need to be perfect and instead, “dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows,” you empower yourself. Focus on that. It is always when I drift from there — that channel — caring about being perfect, impressing others, and even how I look, that I pop out of the channel and nervousness takes over.

Case in point. I spent days agonizing, developing, and preparing a speech that I was to give before a group of colleagues. In fact, I was speaking on a subject matter on which all or nearly most of them were quite well-versed. I was engaged to simply give my perspective. Instead of just preparing as I would normally — after all, I knew my material backward and forwards, I fixated on impressing my peers. I had to look good. I had to be articulate. Funny. Entertaining. Captivating. Memorable. Geez, could I have put more pressure on myself? In the end, I was a bit disappointed in my delivery. No, the audience wasn’t disappointed. In fact, given the thunderous applause and subsequent laudatory emails I received, no one could tell that I had drifted a bit off of my ordinary course. What struck me after is that by over thinking and directing my attention to places it didn’t need to be, I felt less grounded. Less sure. The upside though was the takeaway from that experience. The realization that if I had just allowed myself to stay focused and as close to what ordinarily makes me good at what I do — being me- everything would have flowed naturally. Lesson learned, Mr. Thoreau. Dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows.

The approach to everything in business and in life needs to come from a place of centeredness — a dwelling of what we know is true about ourselves — and then it all will flow naturally. This is what it means to do authentic work. Centeredness and authenticity make everything possible, or “as possible” as it can be. After all, no one can get it right all the time. Thoreau obviously uses “as possible” purposely. It’s not about pleasing everyone. It’s about staying on course as close as possible to where we feel our live flows — that which motivates us and gives us purpose — and then using that compass of power and creativity fully.

In those moments of being off course — when we’re consumed with nervousness, doubt, a lack of self-confidence, and/or the mere feeling of falling short in some way, shape, or form — remind yourself that those are the times where you are likely to learn the most. Recognize that those outside circumstances that you’ve allowed to get into your head can provide you with the opportunity to regain your footing. To redirect you and set you back on course to “dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows. That is where your best resides. When you’ve done your best to stay there, you’ve done the best you can. Perfection is no longer the goal or direction.

So what keeps you as near to your channel — your purposeful motivation, your life force — as close as possible to where your creativity and purpose flow? What makes you nervous? What practices keep you grounded and allow you to stay on track? We may not always be at our best, but we can always do our best to stay true to our path and dwell as near as possible to the channel in which [our] life flows.

Thanks, Mr. Thoreau, for reminding me to dwell where I plant my stake and take my compass — my truth — and go in the direction my life flows.

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