Fifth Step: Always Do Your Best.

Imagine my surprise this morning, as I turned to The Fourth Agreement of the Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz: Always Do Your Best. We think we do, but we really don’t. My dad preached to all of us to do our best. Whatever we do, do it with every bit of our being; homework, building a science project, or as adults at work. Do it to the best of our ability. Why?

Ruiz says if we do our best, we live intensely. We’re more productive (I’m all for that!). You’ll be good to yourself as you give yourself to your family, friends, community and everyone else. It’s in the act you feel good. I can tell for myself, as I’ve rearranged my morning time spent, I’m creating more. I’m getting started on feeling accomplished. I’m getting things done. My stress is less. Yes, I can see the future I’ve been working so hard at for the past few years.

Most people have jobs instead of careers. They are miserable and can’t wait for whenever payday is, welcome the weekend with open arms, and dread Monday morning. During my single mom years, I suppose I was a bit of a workaholic. I’d work for the OT on Saturday mornings. My kids were old enough to stay alone, watch cartoons, and pour milk on their own cereal, while I worked 4 hours from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Once home, we’d start on cleaning, laundry, doing yard work, etc. I miss the energy but not the stress that came with it.

Yes, many people misuse those two days called the weekend. Chances are, deep down, we’re unhappy. The work is dull and boring but we need the benefits. When you’re unhappy, you try to escape; into more work, going to the bar, and the rest of the story isn’t pretty. Sure, I visited drinking establishments; I had to see what the hype was all about. It took about a year for the luster to wear off. I quit going out, looked forward to staying home with the kids on Friday nights, doing laundry, and being grateful.

Once we accept ourselves, learning from each mistake, we develop stronger personalities. We learn to stand up for ourselves. Things don’t bother us. We can say with total honesty of our word, “I did my best.” I can tell you, living a life with chronic pain and disability since 1995, many days, my best is disappointing. No one but me is judging, but I’m learning to know it’s nothing I’m doing on purpose, it’s simply the hand I was dealt at age 43. Yes I’m used to it; I know what to expect. About every five years, I become significantly worse. Part of it is aging, a lot of it is my condition. I remain grateful to God I can still walk, drive, see, and create beauty for my world.

Further, Ruiz tells us when we enjoy what we’re doing, it isn’t work, you’re doing it because you want to, not because you’re forced to do it. Sure, there are minor things required of us to live in society, living with others, we just do them. Laundry, cleaning, mowing the yard, they’re must do’s to live in a neighborhood with others. I consider them to be necessary evils. I thank God I have many nice clothes, a nice home, and we can see what we’ve worked for. The Babe helps a lot. It’s how his mom raised him. Thanks, Liz!

When we are in the process of action, we are living. We are experiencing living fully. Inaction is siting on the couch watching TV. Sure, I succumb to it now an then, but then realize how fruitless that is. I enjoy a good Netflix binge just as much as the next person. I just don’t allow it all day, every day. I can’t. If I would, I may as well cancel my website, my blog, my works in progress, give away all my fabric, art supplies . . .

Ruiz also says when you live, keep your word, never assume, don’t take anything personally, and do your best, your life will be happier, fuller, and reach further into the universe. Who could hope for more than that? What a great way to live.

Last summer, while our friend Lenny was experiencing declining health, I came upon the company, “Live a Great Story.” I have lots of their stickers, magnets, and shirts. It’s a motto I love, and it’s one that makes me remember Lenny. He was generous to a fault, and kept it hidden. He was somewhat of a curmudgeon until he saw a little kid. Then he lit up. At his funeral, I learned what a generous man he was. He lived a great story, that’s for sure. Dang, we miss you, Lenny. It’s so quiet at our table on Wednesday nights.

These four agreements are staying in a handy place. I will refer to this book often. It will certainly help me putting my kid book out and returning to my novel. I have grown to love my life, despite it’s areas of loss. We were not prepared how to live life older, less agile, and less energy. You cannot make a machine out of the human body, to defy it’s limits – whether the limits are age, accident, illness, disability.

We can conquer doubt and fear by learning to take risks – putting your art out there, your written word, your quilts, your creations. It is possible, and probably the best thing you can do for yourself. Art heals. Quilting heals. Writing heals. I believe it’s my purpose now. Write and help others heal.

My schedule is changed for today. The Babe called to meet for lunch. I’d adjust. It’s what you do when there are two of you. Someday, one of us will not be here. We need to enjoy each other now. No regrets. Have a beautiful afternoon, we’ll see each other tomorrow.

Dad with Grandpa Jewell. Had to have been after WWII.

Thriving Thursday!

Just about the time we think we have life all figured out, God throws us a curve. Is He just messing with us? Is He offering us a challenge to keep us humble? Or is it a reminder of from whence we came?

I remember from whence I came. It was from a working class, blue collar family. Probably low to mid range income (that doesn’t matter), but I specifically remember many lessons about our effort. It didn’t matter if it was a coloring session with Mom at the dining room table while my brother was at kindergarten, or a lesson from Dad about not accepting a sub-standard science product with an obvious mistake covered by white-out. I struggled with that science project.

It was a great idea. I traced the skeleton of the human body on newsprint. We always had newsprint around for drawing, since Dad worked at the newspaper in the pressroom. When the rolls of paper ran out, they could take the scraps and use for scrap paper at work or at home. I covered a piece of cardboard and made a bootleg easel for my display. Each different kind of bone was outlined with yarn held down by glue. I was a mastermind of creativity!

I was nearly finished, and the ink I was using to make notations of the type of bones left a horrible blob on the paper. Foiled again! Dangit! My fifth grade mind told me, “Go ahead, use white out. It’ll be fine.” Of course, bright white on newsprint to cover an ink blob looks horrible. All that work! No! All Dad said when I proudly showed him was, “You’d better do it over again.”

“What? No. It took so long, I can’t!” I pouted. I wasn’t about to sit there for three hours again. Guess again. Deep down, I knew he was right. Dad was always right. I knew I could do better. It didn’t sit right in my young mind to turn in less than my best work. After dinner, I sat down at the dining room table, while my brothers watched television in the living room, and I re-constructed my masterpiece.

It truly was magnificent, the second time around. It was something I was immensely proud of. I used different colored yarn around each type of bone. The teachers praised me. Dad never said anything more than, “That’s more like it.” Those few words went a long way in teaching me something that has stuck with me for a lifetime. I kept that project until I was well into my 40s. I finally threw it away after telling my kids the story of what it meant to me. I can picture it in my mind, perfectly.

Competing with others isn’t something I’ve done well. Booker T Washington says:

Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.

Measuring success by how we rank with others is necessary in academic world, the work world, and sports. In terms of individuals who are finding and living their own truth, it’s detrimental. We need to only look inside to determine our worth. We don’t have the same abilities, interests, background and experience. How can we compare ourselves to each other? We can’t.

We should be our own heroes. We all know how much effort it takes us to achieve something. Even more when we do it again to do it better, just to satisfy our own feeling of doing our best. It has taken me far in life. When I think of the painfully shy person with no confidence who I was, compared to the extrovert, who loves meeting new people, who is eager to learn from every encounter, and the value I place on relationships, I don’t recognize her.

With encouragement, love, and kindness, I’ve begun to measure my success by the effort and desire I put into the projects I’m working on; whether it’s a quilt or a book or a fundraiser, my heart is in everything I do. I can only feel the satisfaction in my soul upon putting in the work, and doing my best for that day. Thanks, Dad. You taught me well.

Thank you for reading today. Do your best, whatever you do today. I’ll be assembling the Christmas tree, and putting the new Christmas quilt (I bought it – couldn’t make one in time, so I accepted that fact and purchased a cute one) on the bed.

Do the best job you can in your life today. We can have a deep sense of satisfaction for doing it well. It’s a great feeling to have. Don’t stress over your holiday to-do list. If you do, someone has stolen your joy. Let this day be your best. You’ll know when you feel it in your heart. Have a beautiful day, and I’ll see you tomorrow.