illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
I recently advised people to do their best… but I now see that I did not present clearly enough what I meant, for some people then followed the classic sequence • imagine what one's best is, • try to reach the imagined goal, • be dissatisfied with the reality check!
"Do your best!" is a call for effort; it is not a call for finding out what your best 'is'… There's probably not too much difficulty to distinguish what's good, and even what's best, from the rest but such a distinction is pointless! The next instant, the context is different and what allowed some 'best' to be reached is no longer present. Maybe a 'higher' best is now possible, maybe only a 'lower' best is… This is just not the point.
The point of "doing one's best" is… not to settle for "good enough".
Both one's "best" and one's "good enough" are mental fabrications, usually forgetting most contributions from the context and projecting permanency, entity-ness and ultimately failing reality-checks often.
What's "good enough" regularly turns out to be insufficient (but by then, it's "too late"), what's "best" regularly could be improved upon (maybe on secondary or tertiary aspects)…
So when you do your best, don't first try to conceive what this 'best' is…
Just apply yourself entirely, without holding back, letting the goal take over you and give you a glimpse of ego-less achievement!
The ego won't like it, that you can do better without it than with it; the ego will do everything to sabotage this, and that's why words of encouragement might make a difference… but the worst trap the ego can put for you is this: suggesting to interpret "do your best" as "don't do! Imagine… then do something else (because the reality you live in is not what you imagine it to be!)". This is a confirmation bias, for the ego to perpetuate itself as your favourite advisor: "Look! Your teacher gives you impracticable advice! I know myself better than any teacher… What is advised cannot be done. It's not for me! Let's stick to what I know! Let's stay stuck!"
The moral imperatives, and the instructions from one's teacher, are normally to lead you to a reality check, to a spaciousness of mind that allows you not to be a mere robot driven by the (interpreted) world.
Sometimes, the reality check works the other way though: the advice is 'idealised' and then only the stubbornness of the world brings you back to see the spaciousness rather than pure void and unreachable ideals.
"Do your best" is a very pragmatic advice. This is not about some ideal 'best' in some ideal situation in which you don't live! Do not 'imagine' what 'best' means; just do your best! It's about effort and selflessness, not about the 'best'.
photo: Seated Buddha (Tang dynasty). Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.