What To Do When Your Best Isn’t Good Enough

In February, I went to a Superbowl party that my friend B was hosting. As always, the straight people were sitting in the living room watching the game, while the girls and the gays (me included) were at the dining table chatting it up. Two of my friends had just finished running a half-marathon, and eventually, they came around to ask me whether or not I was going to run a full marathon or a half-marathon. As you may know, I had just finished running my first 5k in December and we we’re talking about what my next running goal should be. My friends kept egging me on to join a half-marathon, but I was hesitant to make such a huge leap. I wanted to make my next goal running a 10k.

Anyways, as the conversation about running marathons went on, somehow our talk led us to a discussion about a famous runner whose name I later learned was Paula Radcliffe.

Now, if you don’t know who Paula Radcliffe is, let me illuminate you:

In 2005, Radcliffe participated in The London Marathon, determined to beat the world’s fastest time for any woman in history. Radcliffe started off the race in great shape, but near the end of the race, when she was closest to claiming the title she so desperately wished to covet, Radcliffe started to feel… the pressure. Literally.

Now, apparently, it is not uncommon for a professional marathon runner to stop in the middle of the race, visit a nearby bathroom, take care of business, and then continue their race. (Think about it:  if you’re running that fast, over that great amount of a distance, eventually friction and gravity is gonna force you to go… you know.)

So, as she neared the end of that pivotal race–a race that, if she won, would give her the title of the world’s fastest female marathon runner–Paula Radcliffe realized, to her great dismay, that she needed to go poop.

Unfortunately, if Paula were to go to a nearby bathroom and take care of her business, she wasn’t going to finish the race at the record-breaking time she was aiming for. This was certain. However, she really needed to go poop. This was also certain.

So as she neared the end of her race, facing the possibility of failure due to her human limitations, Paula Radcliffe resigned herself, and instead of going to a nearby bathroom, she paused briefly at the side of the road and released that which was holding her back; and she did this in front of hundreds of people, all while cameras were recording her and live broadcasting the race to thousands of spectators worldwide.

After she was done, Paula stood back up again, crossed the finished line, and achieved what she initially set out to do: she became the word’s fastest female marathon runner.

And the rest is history.

I had not thought about “Paula’s Poop” since February, other than to thank her for discouraging me from ever running a marathon race in my life. But as I was working on my second draft this week, her story came back to mind. (Then I forced it out of my mind. Then it came back into my mind without all the unpleasant imagery.)

You see, when we write, we are often forced to confront our human limitations. These limitations may be physical, like Paula’s, but they can also be emotional, spiritual, or even intellectual limitations. When we hit a brick wall, we’ll often try to figure out the “reason” why our writing isn’t working the way we would like, or why we have been presented with a challenge that is more than we can handle.

Maybe you figure that the “reason” why your work isn’t any good today is because you haven’t tried hard enough. Or maybe it’s because you think you are being punished for something you did in the past; or maybe, you think, it’s because there’s something intrinsically wrong with you.

But even after all this reasoning, you might find that, still, none of it makes any sense. You say:

“I know this should be working. I have tried everything I can do to make this work. I even feel that this is meant to work, but it doesn’t work and–for the life of me–I don’t know why.”

Then you might realize the harsh truth: you haven’t done anything wrong, and you’re not a bad person. It’s just that your best isn’t good enough.

So, what do we do when we are confronted with such a disheartening situation?

I think the first step is to stop blaming ourselves, and instead ask:

“What if being my best is not the point? What if the lesson here is not proving that I am great? What if the lesson here is not about proving anything at all, but simply withstanding all the challenges that are being thrown my way?”

It can be difficult to accept that sometimes our lessons do not occur within the realm of awards or punishments. We have trouble with the idea that something can be gained without a pat on the head, a degree, a catharsis, a reassurance, or a gold medal. And we find it nearly impossible to recognize that something worthy can be gained from having nothing work out for us.

But if you stop looking for what you did right or wrong, and instead saw the challenges that are rising up to meet you as the lesson itself, maybe you can find some peace.

What if you say:

“I have been righteous. I have been good. I have tried my best, but what I am being given now is the chance to go forward without the reassurance I have depended on for all these years, the reassurance I always relied on to show me my worth and to tell me that I am on the right track. Maybe I am not being punished. Maybe I am just being given the opportunity to develop a new strength that I lacked before.”

Maybe the thing to do when you feel like your best isn’t good enough is to realize that your test is no longer about greatness–but about fortitude.

Because it is fortitude, not greatness, that asks us:

“Can you withstand that which is beyond your own human limitations to overcome? Can you withstand the world bearing witness to your ugliness, your imperfections, and your embarrassing human faults? Can you withstand the world’s looks of disgust and shock as you humiliate yourself, or fall to your knees in the name of all you hope to bring into being? Can you withstand it all, knowing that what you will gain in the end is worth far more than that temporary moment of embarrassment, or the deep sense of your personal shortcomings? Can you withstand it all, and be okay with the fact that history might remember you as the woman who pooped while the whole world was watching? Can you withstand it all, just for that one moment of absolute bliss when you crossed that finish line and breathed in the truth that you finally brought into being: that you are now the world’s fastest female marathon runner?”

When life gives us more than we can handle, and we know it is more than we can handle, maybe we should stop ourselves short before we blame ourselves or go looking for the reason behind it all. Maybe we should nod, and instead accept the wisdom that Caroline Myss would suggest: that maybe the only reason why we are given a challenge that we cannot overcome is so that at least we can say, in the end, that we endured it.

much love,


What do you do when you feel like your best isn’t good enough?

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21 comments on “What To Do When Your Best Isn’t Good Enough

  1. BLF says:

    I needed to read this…and I needed to read it today. I was ready to give up on my writing, but maybe I just need to find the fortitude to keep going and expose my imperfections. Thank you!

  2. Are you psychic Ollin? 🙂 The last few posts you’ve written have hit on exactly what I’ve been going through right now. I’ve been staring down my latest draft and thinking “My best isn’t good enough”. I’ve had to drop everything and think… what have I learned doing this? What have I really accomplished? When I start to list it down, it’s a lot more than I expected. So maybe this part just needs to be endured, but it’s not for nothing. I am that much closer to winning the race. It may not be this time (though I hope so) but I’m still running.

    • Ollin says:

      Haha. I might be, or it’s just that I’m a writer too, so I know exactly what writers need to hear at this moment. Keep running!

  3. Chantal Rodriguez says:

    Only Ollin can turn a story about Runner’s Trots into an inspiring blog post! Love it 🙂

    On the running front, enjoy the progression and go 10K, and then see where you want to go from there. You know we will be there with a sign that says “don’t poop yourself!” no matter what distance you are running. Especially after this post 🙂

    love ya!

  4. Ollin, you said poop! 🙂 Great entry. How very true. If we always worried about what others thought of us, the world we be so boring. We wouldn’t have a Lady Gaga or a Dennis Rodman or any of the other quirky, cooky in your face people we love to love and love to hate.
    It is so important to push past that uncomfortable feeling. That is when we change into who we are to become. That is what builds character.

  5. kaleba says:

    Now that I’ve been through many (recent) years of my best not being good enough I look back at my life before the last decade launched its attack on me and see that I used to have it very easy. I was lucky. I did well. I succeeded, even when I thought I was failing miserably. Now that my good days are so few and far between as to seem non-existent I can see how it’s important to cherish the good times. However, I’ve never seen this period in my life as something to endure for the sake of enduring it. I’ve always seen this time period as my luck running out, or the gods hating me, or that I’m being punished simply for being me. When it seems as if nothing ever goes right it can seem an awful lot like a personal attack by the universe. I like your perspective however. Maybe the reason I can’t do anything right is that the lesson is not to figure out how to fix it but to simply endure it. I don’t see myself feeling any pride or self satisfaction in having endured it (should this period of hell ever end) but at least for now, viewing life from this endurance perspective takes some of the pressure off me in trying to fix that which seems unfixable. Thanks for that Olin.

    • Ollin says:

      You’re welcome Kaleba. Certainly it isn’t because you haven’t tried your best. I completely understand, tough. We are taught as humans to look for the problem in ourselves first and look for reasons why and try to fix it. But the universe doesn’t work that way sometimes. I’m sorry that life has been difficult for you. Please be gentle on yourself today!

  6. Kendra says:

    A very complex, thought-provoking post. Good work, Ollin. Among other things, it strikes me as an interesting fresh take on not taking the vicissitudes of life personally. If we do take them personally, we either look to ourselves for fault, or blame the universe (or others) for our fate. We must always look for reasons…this is ironically part of our human proclivity for telling stories. Stories help us make sense of happenings. It is difficult to accept that sometimes there are no good answers or even reasons, and we must simply keep on keeping on. This is actually one of the themes of my current WIP (novel), and it is difficult to balance with the necessity in a novel, being a story, to furnish answers for readers. Thank you for helping me conceptualize my challenge in this way. Now if only I could find the answer. Oh, wait…dang it! : )

  7. clarbojahn says:

    You painted a very good picture with words today, Ollin. Thank you for this post. I will tuck it away for when I need to know I may just need to endure something for the sake of enduring. I’ve had some jobs like that and my Pilates class was like that last Friday.

  8. jannatwrites says:

    Well, now I know for sure that I won’t be running any marathons. Oh, who am I kidding, I didn’t plan on it before I read this 🙂 There is absolutely no way I could take care of my business in public!

    I think struggles like this happen so that we grow from them. Think about it: if you wrote your first draft and went through the edits without any stumbling blocks and produced the next literary masterpiece, don’t you think you’d end up with a huge ego (I think I would.) Realizing that your best isn’t the “best ever” is a blessing.

    Remember: maybe your best isn’t good enough right now, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be more than good enough someday. Good luck!

    • Ollin says:

      What a GREAT insight. I just had a light bulb flash. You are right. Caroline Myss would say that the struggle is to give us mercy, so that we are compassionate towards others. If we never went through anything difficult, we would never know how to be compassionate, and we would never understand each other. And when you think about it, those people who don’t know how to be compassionate are real jerks. Who wants to be that?

      What a great perspective. Thank you for that, Janna. It felt like a gift.

  9. I needed to read this today as a confirmation of my journey. Thank you Ollin. One of the things I took away from Paula’s story is that life is transitory and it is how you manage and overcome challenges that makes the difference. Personally I love her bravery. Sometimes the challenges that life presents are to make us stronger but sometimes it is to teach us lessons that we could not have learned otherwise. This is something that hit me on Saturday as I was talking to a life coach, who told me that all she heard was me talking about obstacles I was facing and never me acknowledging my successes. Her suggestion was that I stop thinking I am stuck and life hates me (yes I say that sometimes) and start seeing that my lesson is to start acknowledging my successes and blessings as an entrepreneur. I wish it was a lie but in a space of 2 days I have become unstuck and have about 4 people offering to connect me to resources. Reading this blog post just reminded me once more that it is not about overcoming but acknowledging the lessons and letting them shape us into something better than we thought we could be.

    • Ollin says:

      What a wonderful and thoughtful summary of my point, Vangile. Yes, Paula does inspire me. Although she didn’t at first. At first I had a narrow mind and only saw it as disgusting. And I think some might see this story in that light and might wonder why I would share this kind of “gross” event. But if you expand your mind you can be truly inspired by someone like Paula. For me she is like a spirit teacher, and I think her story came to me for a reason. She is one tough cookie.

  10. What a powerful piece, Ollin! This makes me think about meditation. The goal is no-reaction and no-effort, but people who practice meditation worldwide concur that this non-action is a really valuable learning experience. It’s exactly as you say — in moments of meditation, nothing works for us. Uncontrollable thoughts continually run through our head and it’s more about facing the challenges than about taking action against them, but therein lies the power of the exercise.

    Wow! I had to admit that I had difficult time responding to this piece, as much as it spoke to me, Ollin. But how amazing that I was able to make the connection between your example and meditation. I felt like I was writing without thinking at first. =) Thanks for having me reflect on this!

    • Ollin says:

      What a great connection you’ve made Samantha. I have heard that about meditation, too, that it helps you be at peace with the groundlessness of life. You’re welcome Samantha, glad it spoke to you.

  11. […] synchronicity of the day was stumbling into a blog where the writer asks himself, what if your best isn’t good enough?   It’s a soul-searching entry about what it means to make a big effort yet come up against […]

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