Doing the Best I Can

Dear God, I am doing the best I can. Frank
From Children’s Letters to God compiled by Stuart Hample and Eric Marshall. Illustrations by Tom Bloom

Ah, Frank, I feel you. There are many days in which “I’m doing the best I can” is what I mutter to the Universe…repeatedly. But what about my view of what others are doing?

I was in a meeting the other day with a colleague that was holding court and catastrophizing. That’s my description of someone who is experiencing business anxiety and running what if scenarios. He might have been able to carry it off as cool and forward thinking if he wasn’t so busy pinning the blame on everyone else around him instead of 1) owning his anxiety and 2) shouldering some level of responsibility for the things he had said he would do but hadn’t.

It brought to mind this letter from Frank and an Unlocking Us podcast with Brené Brown I listened to where she was wrestling with the issue of whether people were doing the best they can. When we run across people who are seemingly thoughtless, destructive (to themselves or others), or just mean, can we believe they are doing the best they can?

Let me add of a couple more recent examples: the high as a kite, unkempt man who was clinging to the fence at my daughter’s elementary school and shouting at the top of his lungs? Or less dramatically, the dismissive cashier at the grocery store who rung up my groceries without the savings and then said I needed to go to the customer service counter with two kids in tow to fix it. Doing the best they can?

I’ve thought about this pretty intensively since I listened to Brené’s podcast. Here’s my summary of how this lands for me.

Referring back to my colleague, the long and the short is that I don’t like him. I think it’s okay not to make friends with everyone that comes along and it’s certainly true that not everyone wants to be friends with me either. But I don’t need to extend that into judgment of who he is even though that feels kinda comfortable as a justification. Judgment very rarely serves me because it blocks my curiosity.

My colleague reminds me of a business partner I had about fifteen years ago and it lasted for four long years. My business partner was incredibly smart and charismatic, took credit for all the success and none of the blame. He stole my peace, of course because I let him, until I realized there were only three questions that I needed to be concerned with:

  1. Did I do what I said I would do?
  2. Have I owned my part, including mistakes, and acted with integrity?
  3. Am I honoring my boundary for how many hours I will put in and for the work that I will take on?

Once I figured out that those were the right questions for me to do my internal work, I could stop doing the blame dance and start to reclaim my peace. Sure, my business partner was maddening, but I could at least stay grounded while dealing with him.

So, back to the question. Are people doing the best they can? For me, it comes down to a simple choice. I can believe that people are doing the best they can in their circumstances or not. This choice affects the way I approach life. Believing that people are just doing a shitty job – well, that doesn’t feel very hopeful. It blocks my compassion. Idealistic? Maybe. But it’s also self-serving because then I don’t have to spend a lot of time evaluating every circumstance. Instead, I can do my best to respond from compassion, and where possible, even if it’s just pitching in with the people affected by the mayhem, help.

Dear God, I’m doing the best I can. – Wynne

Please visit my personal blog at for a related post on leadership: Take Me To Your Leader. I also post on Wednesdays at the Wise & Shine blog. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter @wynneleon

39 thoughts on “Doing the Best I Can

  1. “Holding court and catastrophizing”…you conjured an image — so clearly – in just a few words there, Wynne. And this: “Judgment very rarely serves me because it blocks my curiosity.” Yes, and I’d add it makes the path to peace more of a challenge. Integrity – even if it’s just your own – wins every time. xo! 💕

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It is a kinder thought to think others are doing the best they can and helps to nurture my inner calm. This thinking can be seriously tested sometimes though… 😉 Love to you, Wynne. X

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Great post. It’s funny because I just wrote my post for Wednesday about a really bad customer service experience I had and it sort of ties into this. I think there’s a line between what you can and should let go, and what’s not the best for you. My husband did something yesterday, and I told him how it made me feel and he sort of blew me off, but it wasn’t something I wanted to let go because he clearly wasn’t thinking about my feelings. But this was a great topic. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You point out such an interesting topic about when to let things go. Right – we still need to decide when to take action and when not to, no matter what we believe. Can’t wait for your Wednesday post! You have such a great talent for continually being interesting and engaging!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree. You have to believe that people are doing the best they can with what they’ve got. It doesn’t mean it’d be your best, but you’re not them so why not err on the side of kindness. Doesn’t mean you have to befriend them, just understand who they are.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I like the way you put this Ally Bean! “…doing the best they can with what they’ve got”. I need to remember that. It was incredibly hard for me when I was still working as my best was way different than others who held the same position.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Wynne, we seem to be in sync as my final “humor” post for Saturday talks about judgement so I loved this sentence “Judgment very rarely serves me because it blocks my curiosity.” That was so true to what I wrote about! My levels of compassion however do not always align with what I know to be differences in style, outlook, purpose, coping- any and everything that will make us judge and react harshly to someone. Just when I think I can talk myself down and let understanding move in I seem to fall into another hole of comparison and judgy-ness.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Isn’t that funny when we get in sync? It’s pretty cool when we get multiple takes on a theme! And yes, I can relate to any and everything that will make us judge. There’s a lot. The work of a lifetime, I think! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is great, Wynne! I’ve grappled this a lot over the last decade. Doctors, friends, and family who *seem* not to listen, attempt to understand, or empathize. I once had high expectations for everyone, and it broke my heart and over. It’s so much easier to lower expectations, give people the benefit of the doubt, and then be pleasantly surprised when someone is unexpectedly kind or understanding.

    I think you, LA, Deb, and I are all on the same wavelength! The post I have scheduled to tomorrow will be an interesting follow-up, exploring the ethically “right” thing to do under given circumstances.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love that we are on the same wavelength. This is going to be a fun week!

      Oh, and you bring up such a great and heartbreaking examples in doctor. One would hope that this highly educated group of professionals could predictably show us what “best” looks like and it’s hard when they turn out to be as variable as the rest of us.

      Happy Monday, Erin!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. We can’t expect people to live up to our standards of doing our best. People at different point of time may bring other things along with them. A fight with a loved one. The loss of a loved one. A poor night’s sleep. We can’t begin to guess what is behind other people’s ability and actions. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I see where you’re coming from with this Wynne, and yes, I agree we probably should be understanding and think they’re doing the best they can. However, as I’ve been writing a bit about improvement and CPD, it got me wondering if doing our best should be seen as our best ever/possible best. Given we should strive for continuous improvement, shouldn’t these people also be encouraged to get better.
    I admit it may not always be possible, or that straightforward. Doing their best could be limited by resources, support from management etc so improvement may be out of their hands.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, I love this take, Brenda! You’ve widened the time horizon that I was thinking of “in the moment” but yes, we should all be striving to grow, learn, and change every day, shouldn’t we? Thanks for adding this very thought-provoking comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Psychotherapists hear the phrase a good deal. It comes from two different sources. Most often, it is the excuse adult children make for their parents when they are hesitant to recognize the failures their folks made in raising them. Less often, it comes from the parents themselves, although they more often say, “I raised all my kids the same” (God help the kids who needed a different approach) or a frank denial of the serious awfulness they were accused of by their kids, including abuse of various forms and neglect.

    While we all do make mistakes in relationships, it goes a long way to take responsibility.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, so interesting to hear this other side of the phrase. It makes sense that glossing over the details with a glib phrase doesn’t help anyone in a therapeutic context. And I couldn’t agree more that owning our mistakes is important in relationships as is holding people accountable. Thanks for weighing in with that, Dr. Stein!


  10. What a wonderful post! It gives us both permission to examine our own internal process around less-than-ideal circumstances and make a decision about how we will respond; and a choice about whether to accept and forgive, or to judge. A friend of mine once said it best, “If we could do any better, we would.” Profound, true.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Make a choice – so well put, Julia! Yes! And your friend’s statement is really profound – and why it’s so important to having people like you spreading the light so that we can all keep growing towards doing better. Thank you, my friend! ❤


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