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  • Kristin Kowalski Ferragut

Don’t Try Your Best

En’s over a month into his first year of high school and is making an effort to stay on top of all the work in all their classes. It’s a lot. Yesterday while driving to school, they said they’d try their best on every assignment in every class. We talked about that a bit and I told them “I should write a blog post about this. Remind me later when I ask for ideas.”


Ethan just reminded me, but I’d already decided it’s kind of boring and self-evident. Their other idea was to “write about why classical music is objectively better than British people.” I’m not sure where I’d go with that one. So I’ll go with my thought of yesterday morning that both En and Coley think is interesting. I’d like to do some more book reviews, but also want to finish some cleaning before watching Hocus Pocus 2 tonight. I’m at the point with September that I’ll happily settle for quick and done.


I’ve probably told my kids to try their best on specific activities — playing a piece they’d practiced for a music teacher, auditioning for a play, doing an assignment for school that particularly mattered to them or that may have made a difference in their final grade. Although I can’t remember a specific time that I’ve given that advice. I think I’m more apt to suggest that they have fun with whatever they’re doing or just take it slow and steady.


I think it’s important to form good work habits — such a great gift to give yourself for times that other preoccupations may have school or work behaviors on autopilot. But life is long, Inshallah, and approaching every task with maximum effort seems awfully stressful to me. And I might further say that if you’re always doing your best, it’s no longer your best, it’s just your normal.


MoCo seems to me a Type A county. I guess that may extend to the whole DMV really. Things move quickly, people move quickly, time is overfilled with activity, work tends to be steadily fast-paced, and most everything seems to be urgent, or often presented that way. During quarantine, there seemed to be some mass reflection about lessons learned relative to slowing down and shifting priorities. Those have been quickly forgotten. My kids are right back in the thick of moving through busy days with tons of work. Overall, they wear it well and have plenty of things to be grateful for beyond their education. But still, too much, even if much of it is good, is too much. I worry about how much stress they’re under; how much stress they put themselves under.


I realize that my exception to the phrase “do your best” may just be one of semantics. I do think, if one is going to bother doing something at all, they should try to do it right. And I do believe that thoughtfully engaging in work is a valuable part of forming good habits. But to apply the superlative “best” as the level of intensity with which to tackle every assignment feels like a lot of pressure. I’d rather all the young people I know, especially En, pace themselves, and devote their best effort to what might make the most difference or what feeds their passion.



Photo by Jacob Bentzinger on Unsplash

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