TITLE: How To Be Invincible AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: May 30, 2009 11:15 PM DESC: ----- BODY:

Everyone is trying to accomplish something big,
not realizing that life is made up of little things.
-- Frank A. Clark

Instead of trying to be the best, simply do your best. Trying to be the best can turn into an ego trap: "I am better than you." In fact, the goal of being the best is often driven by ego. If it doesn't work out, this goal can become a source of finding fault and tearing oneself down. "I am not good enough." I should probably say "when", rather than "if". When your goal is to be the best, there always seems to be someone out there who does some task better. The result is like a cruel joke: trying to be the best may make you feel like you are never good enough. In more prosaic sense, trying to be the best can provide a convenient excuse for being mediocre. When you realize that you'll never be as good as a particular someone, it's easy to say, "Well, why bother trying to be the best? I can spend my time doing something else.." This is a big problem when we decide to compare ourselves to the best of the best -- Lebron James, Haile Gebreselassie, or Ward Cunningham. Who among us can measure up to those masters? But it's also a problem when we compare ourselves to that one person in the office who seems to get and do everything right. Another cruel joke: trying to be the best ultimately gives us an excuse not to try to get better. Doing your best is something that you can do any time or any place. You can succeed, no matter who else is involved. As time goes by, you are likely going to get better, as you develop your instincts. This means that every time you do your best you'll be in a different state, which adds a freshness to every new task you take on. Even more, I think that there is something about doing our best that causes us to want to get better; we are energized by the moment and realize that what we are doing now isn't the best we could do. I've never met Lebron James or Haile Gebreselassie, but I've had the good fortune to meet and work with Ward Cunningham. He is a very bright guy, but he seems mostly to be a person who cares about other people and who has a strong drive to do interesting work -- and to get better. It's good to see that the folks we consider the best are... human. I've met enough runners, programmers, computer scientists, and chessplayers who are a lot better than I, and most of them are simply trying to do their best. That's how they got to be so good. Some of you may say this is a distinction without a difference, but I have found that the subtle change in mindset that occurs when I shift my sights from trying to be the best to trying to do my best can have a huge effect on my attitude and my happiness. That is worth a lot. Again, though, there's more. The change in mindset also affects how I approach my work, and ultimately my effectiveness. Perhaps that's the final lesson, not a cruel joke at all: Doing your best is a better path to being better -- and maybe even the best -- than trying to the best. (This entry is a riff on a passage from David Allen's Ready for Anything, from which I take the entry's title. Allen's approach to getting things done really does sync well with agile approaches to software development.) -----