Am I doing the best I can?

Man looking at sunset

You’ve heard it before. You’ve probably said it before.

“I’m doing the best I can.”

“He’s doing the best he can – ease up a bit.”

“All you can do is your best.”

These are calls for compassion, calls for us not to judge each other or ourselves so harshly or expect so much. They ask us to accept where each and every one is at in this given moment. They ask us to trust that if we could do better or do more, we would.

Such “best you can” statements are always true. On some level, none of us has true control over our actions. We are all doing exactly as someone else would, given the same genetics, upbringing, and other life circumstances. We are all doing exactly our best, given all of the circumstances we are coming from. If we could only more deeply grasp from where someone is coming, we could see all of their actions as understandable and perhaps even remarkable.

There is deep beauty for me in this way of looking at the world. The lesson of accepting where I and those around me are without judgment is perhaps one of the greatest I’ve begun to learn. I have done too much harm expecting more than is possible from myself and others.

But I think we must also acknowledge that just as such “doing my best” statements are always true, they are also always false. On another level, we are never operating up to our full potential. There are always ways we can adjust our behavior to be more in line with our stated values. There are always new levels of self-actualization we can attain. Our best is always just out of reach.

And so we must live life in the tension between these truths. We must accept that the present moment, and how we show up in it, is largely outside of our control, pre-destined by what came before it. Everyone is doing exactly what is to be expected, given their circumstances. And we must also accept that there is always a gap between reality and potential. There is always room to ask ourselves: how can I show better – or perhaps simply more fully myself – in the future?

Am I doing the best I can? It doesn’t really matter.

What matters is we dance the dance of knowing we will always be flawed and always hold profound, boundless potential.


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Peter Schulte is the founder and editor of Kindling. Peter is also Senior Digital Engagement Associate for the Pacific Institute and the UN Global Compact's CEO Water Mandate, connecting businesses to sustainable water practices. Peter holds a B.S. in Conservation and Resource Studies and a B.A. in Comparative Literature from University of California, Berkeley, and an M.B.A. in Sustainable Systems from Pinchot University. He lives in Bellingham, WA with his partner Sara, child Owen, and cat Winnie.

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