by Bruce Burke

I wish I had a dime for every time I have had somebody in my life justify mediocrity by explaining that they were “trying their best.” I might not know what someone’s “best” looks like, but I know what it doesn’t look like.

When my son was a freshman in high school, he came home with a “C” in Geometry. He explained that it didn’t come easy to him (I know where he gets that from!), but that he was “trying his best.”

I inquired if he had asked his teacher for help or if he had checked into getting a tutor after school. Of course, the answer was no. Yet in his mind, he was doing his best. He, like most people, didn’t have any concept of how high the “trying my best” bar could be raised.

Over the years, I have repeatedly had employees do the same thing. Unfortunately, once they have convinced themselves that they are doing their best, most mistakes or lack of progress in their careers become either unavoidable or someone else’s fault.

I have heard it all.

“My alarm didn’t go off.” They almost always say it like it was the alarm’s fault! I then suggest getting an alarm with a back-up battery in case the power goes out or setting multiple alarms just to be safe. “Oh, I didn’t think of that.”

Another example occurred when I had a very frank conversation with a team member concerning some chronic administrative failures. We had already addressed these same issues several times, and when he said “I’m trying my best” I immediately replied “NO YOU’RE NOT!” quite matter-of-factly. I asked if it took any unique skills to accomplish these administrative tasks. The answer was no. I then asked if he would approach these responsibilities differently if it meant being paid or not being paid. Of course, the answer was yes. We then created an action plan of checks and balances to ensure his success and he did wonderful job from then on. In fact, he became one of our most productive team members and added considerable value to our organization.

Asking for help is the one tool that has helped me in my personal effort to be the best and create my own success. Had my son or co-worker asked for help, they would have discovered different, more effective ways to achieve their objectives, and become more successful.

Raise your personal “trying my best” bar by being proactive. Create an action plan and make a committed effort to follow through with that plan. Ask someone you trust and respect to confirm you are on the right track; listen to their suggestions. Oftentimes they will identify something that simply never hit your radar.

Do this and you will be pleasantly surprised at how good your “best” can be.

Bruce Burke is the founder of One on One, Fitness Consultants Inc., in State College, PA
This article appeared in the “Good for Business” Blog on the Centre Daily Times website on July 12, 2007.