By: Sandy Churchill
During this over-the-top academic season as a homeschooling mom, I had a discussion with my super-motivated teenage son about dedication, effort, and “doing your best”. While he is juggling two community college classes as a high school freshman, four co-op courses that meet weekly, a literary theatre class, chemistry, and his own assortment of piano, karate, scouts, altar-serving, and CCD classes, he is spot-on and a master time manager nearly 24/7. But life happens and humanity is a flawed condition so simply put: disaster strikes, sickness rears its ugly head, deadlines get missed, homework gets forgotten.
I reminded him how much I can relate. Bills sometimes get forgotten in the sheath of “to file” papers. Our washing machine sometimes leaks and robs time as we mop up the puddles. My mom recently broke her foot and landed in the hospital for the second time this season, needing visits, encouragement calls, and advice on handling the treatment schedule. Our own medical appointments throw a hurdle into the schedule and we sometimes are late or canceling last-minute. Alarms are snoozed through and we make a mad-dash to race against the clock to make it on time, here, there, and everywhere.
Our conversation focused on the phrase “do your best”. He had forgotten to check his email over a weekend and was chiding himself for the frenzy of a deadline for an online French class that literally had him squeezed into an hour to send the assignment by midnight. The mistake had a domino effect. His late-night frenzy kept him hyped up to tackle the assignments and keep going until he had caught up for the class, but now insomnia took over and he was awake until about 2:00 a.m. This made his early morning chiropractor appointment unrealistic as he dragged himself out of bed, and we faced construction-laden traffic. The day seemed to spiral in difficulties from then on.
We chatted about “doing your best” and what that really means for each person. I explained that doing your best is not perfect, nor is it often 100% of your capability. Why? Life happens. Sometimes we don’t get enough sleep, face relationship troubles with friends/family members/co-workers, over-commit to work/activities/promises, have troubles with finances, car repairs, and other nameless instances of chaos that wreak havoc on our responsibilities, successes, dedication, and sense of accomplishment.
My son rose to the occasion of the forgotten French homework but not giving up, rallied in a mad-dash to do what he could to tackle the assignment. Did he get it all done in time? No. Were there consequences? Of course. In addition to a deduction in the grade for the late assignment, he had the stress of frantically scrambling to finish what he could, lost sleep from the experience, and the frustration of lots going wrong the next day due to oversleeping and trying to make up for lost time throughout the next several hours. But should he beat himself up over it? Certainly not.
A dear friend from my first “real job” right out of college shared a favorite term she used for “good enough” work when your best is far from 100%. She called it “satisficing”, a merge of satisfactory and sufficing, and the term can be truly freeing and kinder to yourself than the alternative. The big picture of satisficing is a reality check that acknowledges all the little life glitches that can jar the focus of your ideal, 100% effort, best you can do. Satisficing acknowledges the best you can do on a given day, and this gentle change in perspective is just the kind of soft-focus lens we all need from time to time when the big picture of our effort needs a little mercy and kindness along the way.