“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”
During World War II, Winston Churchill kept a framed quotation from
Abraham Lincoln in his office where he saw it every day:
“I do the very best that I know how — the very best I can; and I
mean to keep on doing so until the end.
“If the end brings me out all right, then what is said against me
“If the end brings me out wrong, then 10 angels swearing I was right
would make no difference.”
“I do the very best…” I love these words of wise Abraham, because there’s a priceless insight waiting for us within them. Lincoln could have simply said, “I do the best…” — but he didn’t. By adding the word “very” he revealed a simple, but powerful truth: There’s always something more we can do, even when we think we’ve done our best. There’s an extra 5% or 10% of effort or a second wind we can catch or more creativity we can summon up — if we push ourselves beyond what we think is the best we have to give.
I’ve found this to be true in working on my children’s novel. Like many writing projects, it’s evolved over time — it’s ripened. During the revision process, there were moments when I thought it was finished and polished and sent it out into the world, only to realize that I could make it better, truer, deeper: What I thought was my best at one point in time turned out to be less than the best. When I saw that my story deserved better from me, that I needed to bring more creativity to it and invest more time in it, I learned that I really had no idea what “my best” was and that there was always something extra lying beyond it.
In your work, the same is probably true for you. The best we have to give — most of us really have no idea what this is — what we are truly capable of. We don’t know how far we can push ourselves, how deep our potential lies, how high our creativity can reach. We sometimes believe we’ve finished projects when they’re actually only partly finished, less than complete, because we delude ourselves into thinking we’ve done our best. Maybe we’re simply tired or frustrated
or feeling tapped out; whatever the reason, we don’t fully mine the work’s potential and find the deeper truths it has to reveal because we settle for what’s really second best.
So as we’re working, let’s remember that we really have no idea what our “best is,” Let’s go for our “very best” — the extra effort that makes all the difference. To do less than this, as Steve Prefontaine said, “is to sacrifice the gift.” Write on!