Are you really doing your best?

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Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s been a long, rough week. In fact, it’s been a long term already, and we’re only halfway through it. I’ve been feeling really drained from work, classes and especially the weather. Just trying to be present in the moment is tiring enough. 

Most people I’ve talked to have a similar feeling about these past few weeks. I’ve heard people saying they feel empty inside, or overworked. A lot of people have said that they feel like they’re simply going through the motions. This term has brought on a totally different routine than what we’ve been used to in the past year. Even going to one in-person class has me exhausted. 

Maybe campus’ general lack of energy is because of the toxic “Lawrence Busy” culture, or the fact that we’re not used to so many people being on campus at once. Maybe we feel constantly tired simply because the weather has been extra gloomy. Whatever the cause, I have a real concern, not because we collectively seem worn out, but because most of us are “doing our best.” 

As a phrase often said to show support, I’ve come to question what “doing my best” really means. Usually, most people say that if you tried your best then you essentially did the right thing. You tried, isn’t that great? Well, I used to think it did until I realized Lawrence students may have a different idea of what “best” means. 

Simply put, pushing yourself to your absolute breaking point is not the equivalent of doing your best. Instead, it’s creating an unhealthy perception of what a typical workload in college should look like. It’s turning positive motivation and encouragement into a toxic idea of what the new normal looks like in college. 

I’ll admit, I do this, too. I push myself until I am completely overworked and feeling totally overwhelmed. I push myself up to my very breaking point, and then I stop. I explain that I “did my best” on my homework, and while that may look like a good grade to outsiders, it is actually a mentally exhausting hole of doom that made me cry multiple times. So, it might look like I’m all for mental health positivity to others, but in fact I’m doing the very opposite of my best. And the worst part of this whole situation is I know I’m not alone. 

I think at Lawrence it’s really hard to decipher what it actually looks like to be a mentally healthy college student, and this turns into, essentially, a false advertisement for properly taking care of ourselves. So many people, myself included, like to preach the benefits of self-care to others without actually taking care of themselves. We’ll say everything about the importance of mental health and not even listen to our own advice. Unfortunately, we’re fake spokespersons, and we’re starting to sound like broken records with each “But you tried your best!” we say to others. 

I think the best way to turn around this sort of mental health hypocrisy is to define what “doing your best” looks like to you, because, honestly, the meaning behind the phrase will never have a universal understanding. Once you realize what it looks like to do your best, you need to actually set boundaries. Doing your best is not pushing yourself past your limitations. You wouldn’t cross one of your friend’s boundaries, and you deserve to treat yourself the same way. 

The hardest part about actually doing your best here at Lawrence is not comparing yourself to what others accomplish. We can’t continue to play the game of who is doing worse. If you find yourself engaging in these types of conversations, it’s best to walk out of the situation. While it’s perfectly normal to discuss the workload we have at college, by no means should this turn into a competition. The college experience is different for everyone, and so is the “best” everyone is capable of doing. 

So, the next time you find yourself pushing yourself over the edge, take a step back and ask yourself why you feel the need to cross your own boundaries. You are a human after all, and you deserve to be respected by others, as well as yourself. In fact, the more you let yourself cross your own limits, the more likely you’ll let others do that to you, too.  

Remember you are capable of doing your best, as long as that definition of “best” is written; by you and for you. Never let yourself think that reaching your breaking point is the best thing you can do. You are more important than your workload, always.