Being mediocre might be easy, but it isn't fun. We can hear the nagging disappointing voice in our heads when we didn't give something our best. We know the dejected energy of when a project failed to land. We can tell, intuitively, when an effort fell flat. And when we self-sabotage or sell ourselves short, we usually end up feeling worse than if we didn't try at all.
Across the board, one thing that's always made me feel good - more than travel, more than jumping off of really high things, more than even my most nourishing relationships - is doing my best work.
And work can be literal (what we do for money or what we're obligated to do).
But "work" can also be how we approach anything: trying a new activity, learning a new skill, working on that creative project that we said we always wanted to but never started because we were binge-watching a show on Netflix or we had to go to our friend's thing or we're just suuuuper tired today but definitely tomorrow.
Doing your best work builds a sense of pride and accomplishment that belongs only to you. It's deeply gratifying to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. There's something transcendent about pouring into something in an effort to create something greater. Doing your best work inherently requires the creation of something and when you make something, no one can take it away from you.
Now, you might think that to do your best work, you must first find out what your ideal work is - I disagree. True artists make a craft out of anything. A remarkable musician may eventually have the finest instruments, but they're not going to wait until they get them before they start practicing. An excellent painter is not going to delay painting until they have the exact colors in from some obscure part of the world - they'll paint with mud if they have to.
And the act of doing your best work is an art and a craft.
If you're iterating, using your intuition, moving in flow and getting lost in parts of the process, creating - you're making art. You're crafting.
Practice crafting in your life - regardless of what the role or project is, whether it's paid or unpaid, whether your name is on it or not. Because the skills you'll be building by doing your best work are invaluable. And when the time comes for you to do your best work on Your Best Thing - you'll have mastered the fundamentals.
There are three things that you need in order to do your best work:
High Standards (but not Perfection): Notice that I said an excellent painter and a remarkable musician. The ability to get started and do your best with what you have is what separates the do'ers and the makers from the dreamers - perfectionism is really a form of extended procrastination. To make, you must start - and then iterate. Don't be the person that never finishes anything because you needed it to be perfect. Just focus on making it really, really, really good. Eventually, you might even find beauty in the imperfection.
Internal Alignment: You need to feel the meaning in what you're doing. This trips people up because they think that to find meaning, they have to save the world, or change jobs into public service or find their purpose - and these are noble goals, but they're not sufficient reasons to delay your pursuit to do your best work. You can find meaning in anything and everything. And when you do, you will be intrinsically motivated to do your best.
Protection: Protect your work. Protect your art. Protect what you create like your life depends on it. Protect the time that you need to spend on it (every day). Protect it from people who won't understand it or appreciate it. Protect it from your own self-criticism. Protect it from whatever you need to.
Just don't stop making. Don't stop creating. Don't stop doing your best work.
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