Parents: besides applying the following principles to your own life, use them to generate healthy expectations in regard to your children.
“Always do your best” is a fine principle to live by, except for the people who equate it with “strive till you burst.” There are few happy perfectionists in this world—worse, there are hundreds of thousands of perfectionists ruining their health with stress-fueled hypertension, sinking into major depression, or drowning their despair with addictive chemicals.
What does it mean to do your best in the healthy sense?
1. It means understanding and living according to your unique individual purpose.
Just as healthy eating depends less on absolute calories consumed than on consuming the right foods, the extent to which we feel overworked depends less on absolute hours or specific tasks, and more on how worthwhile we consider the work. When we truly believe in what we’re doing—when our to-do lists are based not on what society or our bosses/teachers/parents say is worthwhile, but on what our own souls know we were made for—we are free to operate without energy-draining negative thoughts, and to end each day’s work feeling joyfully satisfied rather than fatigued and inadequate.
2. It means achieving a healthy balance between work and rest.
Not only getting adequate sleep every night, not only putting aside all work during weekends and vacations, but taking regular breaks throughout ordinary work days. Make a habit of going for short walks or doing deep-breathing exercises, or just gazing out the window, for ten minutes every hour. Take your full lunch break—away from your desk—every day. And do everything you can to eliminate rush and multitasking from your life: counterintuitive as it seems, the more constantly you work, the fewer worthwhile things ultimately get done. (Consider nonstop striving the equivalent of being “too busy” to sharpen the proverbial saw or get your car’s oil changed.)
3. It means distributing your energy expenditure in ways appropriate to a situation.
“Going all out” may work for a hundred-yard dash, but a marathon requires more moderate speed. The same principle applies to goals in every aspect of life: if you attack five-year goals with an intensity that implies you have five days to achieve them, you’ll burn out on the goal before five weeks have passed.
4. It means accepting that neither you nor your workcanbe perfect.
If “best” meant “flawless beyond room for improvement,” the whole concept of growing and developing would be meaningless, for society as well as individuals. Truthfully, the idea of reaching a point where everything is “finished” and we can enjoy indefinite free time is vastly overrated: boredom in retirement kills as many people prematurely as does overwork. If you can enjoy doing your (current) best every day while looking forward to doing even better tomorrow, you’ve learned one of life’s great secrets of happiness. And you will be able to not only do, but be, your best!