Tonight I went to dinner at the Athenaeum and listened to Jabari Asim talk about his new book: The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn’t, and Why. It was a provocative overview of the history of the n-word and Asim commented eloquently on why it should be banned from the public square but not banned entirely.
The quote of the night came in Asim’s answer to a question on what black people (and minorities in general) should or can do to "help the cause". He said, "My answer is the same for minorities as white folk. Be your very best." It was pitch perfect: as an individual, the first way to help in a large movement such as race relations is to take personal responsibility for your own actions and standards.
I’m frankly surprised I don’t more often hear the mantra, "Be all you can be" or variations. The U.S. Army used it as a slogan for 20 years, but it doesn’t seem to have penetrated the mainstream motivational / self-help lexicon.
Be your very best. Be all you can be. Hold high standards for yourself.
These messages fire me up!
5 comments on “Be Your Very Best. Be All You Can Be.”
I wrote about this on my blog not to long ago actually. The title,”Being Your Best Is Not Good Enough”
An excerpt from it,
“Coaches say it. Managers say it. Parents say it. “Give 100%”
They could not be more wrong. The anthem should be “Improve yourself.” At every opportunity, at every game, at every presentation, at every situation. Improve yourself!
What would happen if you improved your knowledge or skill level in your profession or industry just 1% every day? How much would you have improved at the end of a week? At the end of a month? At the end of a year?
Being your best is not good enough until you are your best. Keep improving!”
Interesting observation. One place I’ve noticed this message to be lacking is in the advice given to young people just coming out of college. The standard, cliched message is: “don’t get stuck in the safe path, have the courage to go for something exciting!”
This is all fine, but it glosses over some fundamental calculus grinding along behind the scenes:
* Path B is exciting because it provides great value/reward.
* It provides great value/reward because its scare; not many people do or can do it.
* It’s scare because it’s hard.
A more meaningful message might be to combine the two. If you want to leave a “safe” path, first learn how to operate at the peak of your potential. If you’re not rocking and rolling within your safe path, making a name for yourself, shooting past colleagues, then you might consider working on that before quitting everything and bumming a ride out to LA to make it as a screenwriter (for example). That’s a tough course. Which is why it’s exciting. If you can’t give it everything, the odds are stacked against you.
I guess, however, that the glamor of “what” is more inspiring than the pragmatic “how.”
While I was glad to hear Jabari Asim talk about doing your very best, his whole racial solidarity thing seems so dated and against the message you and I love.
As an old person of almost 40 (ahem), my impression is that the expression “do your best” has been horribly abused in the past, because it is ambiguous.
“Best” has 2 distinct meanings: your best with your current skills (which may be limited), and your best as your full potential.
This means people can use the wrong meaning in the wrong place, and do harm. For instance, by performing poorly due to lack of preparation, then complaining
“But I’m doing my best!” (meaning their best on their current skills which are terrible because they didn’t do any work for 6 months).
Or by expecting to meet their full potential right away without the learning, which is impossible, resulting in unnecessary failure, which demotivates and causes more failure.
Anyway, understanding that “best” can and should improve is really important.
Really like this post Ben. If we all could be all that we could be, just imagine how different the world would be!