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It’s taken me a very long time to be able to tell the difference between doing my best and trying too hard. And although it’s still difficult at times, I’m getting much better at being able to quiet the “inner slave driver” as a good friend once called it, so that I can live a life of more contentment, success and calm.

You see, whether it was in my relationship, my friendships, my career, my parenting, my dinner party planning, my housekeeping, my charitable endeavours or my fitness regime, I was a chronic over-doer. I was raised to believe that if I did my very best, then I couldn’t be faulted, even if I failed in whatever I was attempting. The problem with that way of thinking was that there is no quantifiable way to know whether I’d done my best, so I’d drive myself to do more and more, just to be sure. The next thing I knew, I began worrying that if I’d done my best at one thing that day, then had I let something else important slip. I was caught in a vicious cycle of perfectionism and guilt, and it wasn’t very pretty.

Then it occurred to me that I could be trying too hard. But how could I tell the difference? How would I know if I was simply letting myself off the hook, or justifying not trying hard enough? As I looked around me, the answer became pretty clear. The people I knew that were doing their best had a sense of joy and ease and quiet confidence. They seemed at peace with what they accomplished, and with what they didn’t. Conversely, the people that were trying too hard (like myself) seemed like they were holding on too tightly to something that might slip away at any moment. There was fear and desperation, and others could sense it.

I decided I wanted to be part of the first group, and immediately things began to change. I slept better, I had more success in my career and I began to see a much clearer picture of what I wanted out of life. I practiced yoga, and felt every wonderful pose, rather than worrying whether I was doing it perfectly. I worked at enjoying my job, instead of trying to climb higher up the ladder. I invited people over for a simple dinner on the spur of the moment, instead of planning the ideal dinner party for eight. I wasn’t running frantically anymore, I was enjoying the view as I went, and I loved every moment of it.

So, have I mastered doing my best, rather than trying too hard? Not at all. I still love a well kept home just a bit too much, I’m overly keen to be a successful author, a wife, mother and grandmother who is loved and adored, and a size 6. I obsess when I’m cooking one of Julia Child’s recipes, and I’m still perfecting the right pace of things for me, but what I do know is that I’ll never go back to where I was. It just feels too good now that I’ve stopped trying too hard, and am only doing my best.

 

photo: Penelope Cruz via Vogue

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