Thursday, April 13, 2017

"Doing Your Best... Or Are You?"

I am remembering the exchange in the M*A*S*H movie, wherein an anxiety-filled underling races out to his arriving superior to explain the unfortunate circumstance that occurred during his absence, bleating,

“Sir, it couldn’t be helped.”

To which his forgiving superior, without inquiring what the unfortunate circumstance was, replies,

“Then it wasn’t your fault.”

Thus taking the anxiety-filled underling – almost magically – off the hook.

I’ve been thinking along similar lines about the equally exonerating qualities of “Doing your best.”  “Doing your best” appears to me to be an instant “Forgiverator.”  Somebody says,

“I did my best.”

You automatically say,

“Way to go!”  

The questionable result immediately immunized, because who can possibly do better than their best?  The unavoidable problem, however, is who in these cases determines if “your best” was what you unequivocally did.

You do.

Can you see the inherent “conflict of interest” in that arrangement?

What if, when it comes to evaluating yourself, you are, like that forgiving superior in M*A*S*H H , a notoriously “generous marker”?  (Because you have inescapable connections with the guy.)

Imagine being the Judge/slash/defendant in a courtroom proceeding…

JUDGE/SLASH/DEFENDANT:  “How do you plead?”

DEFENDANT:  “Guilty, but with an exonerating explanation.”

JUDGE/SLASH/DEFENDANT:  “Good enough for me.  The defendant is free to go.”

There is a residual soupcon of suspicion when you are your own calibrating stopwatch, your own personal yardstick.  Of course, nowadays, beyond the ultimate measurement of victory, there is the qualifying descriptive of “personal best”, a salving palliative, reminiscent of “Everybody’s a winner.”

“I achieved my ‘personal best.’”

“Did you win?”

“I came seventy-seventh.”


Let me personalize this delicate confection before it blows away like a dandelion in the wind.

When I’m at home, three days a week, I work out on a treadmill.  I begin with a “2.5” miles-per-hour “warm-up”, elevating my speed incrementally over a 30-minute routine to ultimately “4.7.”  “4.8” or above?  I am unable to keep up, my hyperventilating exertions, conjuring specters of teams of paramedics and exhortations of “Stay with me!” 

Trial-and-error experimentation concludes that my “personal best” maximum ceiling on the treadmill is “4.7”.

We go to this fitness place in Mexico they call “The Ranch” (though there is nary a cayuse in sight.)  One morning, rain wipes out the “Seven o’clock hike” (which others, some in my own family, bravely mistily undertake.)  The hike is the only regular exercise in which I traditionally partake… at a place offering hourly classes from morning until dusk.

Since skipping the “Seven o’clock hike” eliminates my entire daily regimen – unless you count “climbing out of a hammock” an exercise, were you to witness my extricating struggles you well might – being a man of impeccable character and discipline, I decide to replace the untaken hike with an unexpected encounter with “Mr. Treadmill.” 

Well, sir (and madam)…

The calibrations on “The Ranch’s” treadmill were different, and by “different” I mean harder.  The maximum speed I could now manage was “3.8.”

That’s “.9” miles-per-hour slower than my “personal best” accomplishment at home.  Leaving me demoralized, aghast, and heartily dismayed. 

“‘4.7’, my Mexican tooshie!

sneers the taunting conquering treadmill.

I know.  It’s not the “number” that counts; it’s the degree of experienced exertion.  If the sensation of physical effort is commensurate, the number appearing on the machine’s console is irrelevant.

“But is it really?” the “Devil’s Advocate” in me inquires?

What if, content with my exalted home-field “4.7” – a maximum level of exertion I then transported to “The Ranch” – I had, either consciously or its sneaky relative unconsciously, gone easy on myself, when I could have actually done better? 

My thoughts go immediately to soldiers in combat, who find themselves wondrously outperforming their civilian selves.  I see myself during my erstwhile “working days.”  How much I consistently accomplished!  My “personal best” today cannot hold the proverbial candle.  Even factoring in “old.”

You honestly believe you are performing at your at the top of your capacities.  At whatever.  At writing.  At physical exertion.  At open-minded understanding.  At treatment of others, cherished loved ones, and otherwise.  At any other category of thought or behavior where you inquire, “Is this the best I can do?” and you sincerely respond, “Yes.”  

Today’s question is,

Is it?

That “4.7” treadmill was plenty comforting.

But the “3.8” Mexican challenger really opened my eyes.

1 comment:

JED said...

Especially if the Mexican treadmill was calibrated in kilometers per hour. But surely not!