When Your Best Isn’t Good Enough, Try “Different”

As long as I could remember, parents, coaches, employers, and teachers were always instilling the concept of “trying your best.”

I wasn’t the most athletic kid, and I often remember the familiar screams of “try harder,” or “you’re not giving it your all.” I remember thinking these people had no idea what they were talking about. Out of breath, I would be at my wits end and ready for home.

As a young adult, I found myself falling into the same trap. I would say the same things that I once detested hearing, to my employees and children. I would say these things, thinking I was being a great motivator; but I would get that familiar look. The look was the same disgust I would give the people I depended on to make me a better person. These were the people that I looked up to, the people I thought should have all the answers.


There are times when there is a serious lack of effort, and the words try your best should be used. With some, these words roll off their back, and they heed them and march on. With others, these words are de-motivating and belittling.

Several thousand employees and six kids later, I had an epiphany. What if the majority of the younger generation were trying their best? After helping coach many of my kids’ sports teams, I’ve noticed that the younger kids who are especially motivated to succeed. As these kids get older, they fall into some bad habits. I figured out that they either lacked the attention they needed from their parents, didn’t have adequate role models, or both.

The successes I can tout as an employer and a parent come primarily from those I am in charge of teaching the necessary skills they need. There is no situation where my goal isn’t maximum skill and productivity, but how do I get there? When there’s an issue, I ask: “Is this your best?” Occasionally I’ll get the response, “No, but I can try harder.” However, mostly, I receive a response like: “OF COURSE THIS IS MY BEST!” The latter response is usually where we back off, or cut ties all together. What other options are there? Do we keep repeating ourselves?

It is this latter response on which I want to focus on, the response from people who are convinced they are giving their best. Read carefully: They may be giving the best they know how to give. What does that mean?

As a mentor, this is where we are really tested. This is where we have to take them aside and politely say, “OK, I believe you, but I have to tell you something. Trying your best isn’t good enough right now. Instead of trying your best, it’s time to ‘try different’.”

That’s right. Try different.

Try different means to attempt approaching what you are doing from another angle. In football, maybe all that needs doing is a slight adjust in your stance. At work, maybe it’s an underutilized approach in what you are aiming to accomplish. At home, for a specific example, maybe it’s an interactive story between parent and child, inserting options to resolve a concerning issue–thus, changing the story’s outcome–rather  than a parent and child discussing the options they have to resolve an issue in the “trying your best” same old way.

So remember, when ‘try your best’ isn’t working or an option, maybe the answer is as simple as to “try different.”

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