“If you work hard and you do your best, you can do anything.”
“If you try to do your best there is no failure.”
“You can only do your best. That’s all you can do. And if it isn’t good enough, it isn’t good enough.”
Parents always exhort their children to do their best, invoking effort as the ultimate signal of commitment. And seeing our kids pour themselves fully into the challenge at hand fills us with pride; no matter the outcome, we say, they did their best…
And yet, when dedication diverges from success, praise for “doing your best” can feel like a consolation prize. At the upper levels of achievement, doing your best is simply the price of entry, rather than a guarantee of victory. Seth Godin, as usual, sums up the problem with effort alone quite nicely:
“By defining “our best” as the thing we did when we merely put a lot of effort into a task, I fear we’re letting ourselves off the hook.
“In fact, it might not require a lot of effort, but a ridiculous amount of effort, an unreasonable amount of preparation, a silly amount of focus… and even then, there might be a little bit left to give. “
Every athlete leaving all out on the field, every student striving for the top score, every performer hustling for that big break, every worker pushing the boundaries of a craft or passion has this much in common: they all do their best. But just as only a small fraction of athletes win a professional championship, only the merest sliver of students can earn a perfect test score or anything remotely close. Commitment matters, but a couple of other factors separate those who merely want it from those who get it:
1. A PLAN
A plan harnesses all that emotional energy and channels it towards productive ends. Practice ensures that, even in the heat of the moment, a champion can exercise the skills, strategies, and psychology for success. If any one of these factors go missing, victory is far from assured; when all three are combined on the big day, those counting on effort alone cannot hope to compete.
In test preparation, we depend on students doing their best. Just like coaches, we remind students that they play like they practice in an effort to help them exercise commitment like any other muscle. But we never count on effort alone for success when it counts. Doing your best is praiseworthy, but doing your best after you’ve practiced over and over with the best instruction possible is worth much, much more.