Do your best

I’ve been raised to set high standards for myself. I’ve been raised that your best is never good enough and that in order to succeed you  need to push beyond your limits and go beyond your best. I’ve taught myself that if you are not perfect you have not done your best.

I returned to my dorm in Istanbul tonight and found a woman sitting in the lobby with her head in her hands.  I couldn’t tell if she was on the phone with someone or if she were asleep or listening to music. I asked if she was okay in Turkish and then in English and she didn’t respond. When I asked again she again didn’t respond.

Her hair was matted, greasy and a spider crawled its way through the black tangles. It felt like a horror movie and that as soon as she turned her face toward the light I would be met with some three eyed demon or a bloody disfigurement. Her legs and jean shorts were covered in dried blood and the lobby smelled from drugs, though I don’t know what kind.

Another Turkish girl, Asli, approached and spoke to the seated woman in Turkish. The woman responded, got up from the chair and nearly fell after a few hobbling steps. She couldn’t make the walk the fifteen feet from the lobby to her dorm room.  There were scratch marks on her and I didn’t want to look anymore.

Asli told me the woman said she did not want to go to the Health Center, but I insisted. If the woman became angry, she could be angry at me, I told Asli. What mattered was calling someone and I did not know enough Turkish to make the call myself. Asli called Dormitory Management and Dormitory Management called the Health Center.

The woman had the contents of her purse dumped out in front of her as she struggled to find her room key, when the ambulance arrived. The flashing blue lights stopped my heart, I was terrified but didn’t know of what.

I was terrified of the woman, I suppose. Terrified of what had happened to her and terrified that just by being in presence I had somehow “caught” her misfortune. There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t even communicate! Workers from the Health Center spoke to her and I left because I had done all I could.

The first thing I did when I got to my room was scrub my hands again and again to rid myself of her presence and cleanse myself of whatever I may have “caught”. Then I called my mom and tried desperately to articulate the situation, but my words were derailed by constant stammers and “I’m sorry”s. My mom told me I had done my best and that I had been a good human being for helping as I did.

Except  I don’t want a pat on the back for being a good person when there was nothing I could do. I did my best, yes, but my best didn’t mean much because I lack the skills to make a real impact. This shouldn’t be about me, but I feel part of the reason for my guilt right now over not being able to do more is because of how I’ve been raised regarding “my best”. My best always needs to be perfect and that is the attitude applied not just to me, but to everyone about how to succeed. We are teaching and learning a flawed principle.

Yes, we should always try our best and push ourselves. Yes, we should always strive for success. But we should also know that our best isn’t about being perfect and always knowing the answers. It’s about doing everything that we can and being proud of what we have accomplished.

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