What is Our Best?

What is our best? What do we really mean when we talk about doing our best?

It’s become a stock answer we hear whenever someone asks another person to do something: “I’ll try my best!” Afterwards, we’ll hear the inevitable follow-up: “I tried my best.” I’ve come to realize that those statements bother me. At its heart, saying that we’ll do our best is a copout. Whenever we say that we’ll do our best, we’re not really thinking about the task and how to achieve a goal; we’re protecting ourselves. That way, if it turns out that we fail, we have an immediate get-out-of-jail-free card, because we said that we’d do our best—not that we’d succeed.

What is our best, really? Whenever I play a round of golf, I never end it feeling like I played my best. I always feel like I left shots on the course. If I really played my best, I would drive straight on every shot, make perfect chips, and sink every putt. But I’ve never actually played my best. I lost three Super Bowls during my career in the NFL, and I don’t think I did my best in those games. I could have been better.

The fact that I’ve never achieved my best doesn’t have to be a problem, though, because most of our learning comes from our mistakes—our failures, bad shots, and bad decisions. What’s more, it gives us a drive to improve. We seldom, if ever, learn from winning. If anything, winning makes us become complacent, and even delusional, believing that we have all the answers. And I’m guilty of this, too!

We’ve talked in the past about the value of reinvention at companies like Apple, and how important it is for their success. It’s great to see when companies manage to reinvent themselves. It’s important for every company, big or small. But the fact of the matter is that for most companies, the reason they reinvent themselves is that they were at the brink of disaster. Most companies that achieve any level of success, no matter how small, tend to get locked in. They never change, because they think they’ve solved the puzzle of business and come up with a magic formula.

The only way to succeed is to go out and do something. Act. If your approach is that you’re just trying, even “your best,” that won’t cut it. And if you spend all your time learning, attending conventions, reading books, listening to speakers, but never get out and do something, then all that information goes for naught. It’s only when we go out and do that we can then succeed or, equally important, fail—and then learn from those experiences and get better.

Instead of saying we’ll try to do something, saving face from the very beginning in case we fail, it’s better to just come out and say, “I’ll get it done.”

The simple truth is that any business person—including both you and me—must go to bed at night and wake up in the morning thinking about ways to get just one more customer. Without that, you won’t find success in your business. You can’t just “try your best” to get that customer—you’ve got to do it.

Fran Tarkenton

About Fran Tarkenton

Fran Tarkenton is an entrepreneur and NFL Hall of Famer, and the founder of GoSmallBiz.com and Tarkenton Companies. With a passion for small business, he’s started more than 20 businesses during and after his NFL career. Fran is a small business coach for entrepreneurs and business owners, providing advice and guidance through sites such as GoSmallBiz.com, SmallBizClub.com, and more. He has written about business issues in the Wall Street Journal, U.S. New and World Report, and USA Today, along with regular appearances on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. You can follow Fran on Twitter @Fran_Tarkenton.