March 30th, 2008

angsty Daniel

A short meditation on excellence and limits

Often, very often, I find myself failing to reach goals. Failing to meet a self-imposed writing deadline; to get chores done around the house; to accomplish daily tasks; to provide enough support to friends who are in crisis.

There you find the keyword, the cornerstone of my offense: that I do not do "enough." By whose standards? Sometimes others', people I respect or care about and do not want to disappoint; more often, my own, since I alone know most intimately all the moments when I could have done more, should have done more.

But it has occurred to me recently that "enough" is no valid measurement of my accomplishments or failures. There are limits to my physical strength, my mental focus, my emotional wellspring. And although I have in the past disdained such ideas as "just doing one's best," thinking that such a mindset only leads to doing less than one's best, to willful mediocrity, I'm beginning to think that phrase may be a more valid measurement than some nebulous "enough."

I cannot save the entire world, nor even all of those around me. I am a finite human being.

I accept that.

This question still remains, then: how may I find the line to walk between "doing what I can" and "doing less than I can"? Between my best (which is never "enough") and the cynical slacking off that I sometimes drop into (because I know that even my best is never "enough")?

"You cannot outguess the gods. Hold to virtue--if you can identify it--and trust that the duty set before you is the duty desired of you. And that the talents given to you are the talents you should place in the gods' service. Believe that the gods ask for nothing back that they have not first lent to you. Not even your life."
--Lois McMaster Bujold, The Curse of Chalion