How would the outcome of the American Revolution have been affected had George Washington sulked, pouted, and licked his wounds after he and his army were ousted from New York City in one of the largest battles of the American Revolution—the Battle of Brooklyn? Hmm.. Instead, in hindsight, that battle became a turning point…
Though it was the Colony’s first encounter with a newly reinforced and refreshed opposition, Washington’s expectations were never sullied. And though he always demanded his troops’ best, he was not a perfectionist because he understood what his best was—having had extensive wartime experience—and how his best differed from the best of his troops.
At the same time, he did what most perfectionists can’t. He understood that what his novice army had to give may not be up to par with his own personal best. At New York in the fall of 1776, he knew his men had given their best. That is a victory. Their best amounted to a loss on paper, but a success over all. For many, they now had a starting point from which to measure their future successes and their future expectations. They knew what they were up against. They knew the competition.
What’s beautiful to the unperfectionist in this representation is that an untrained, makeshift army faced overwhelmingly stout odds with unfettered courage—without knowing what their best really was. They didn’t know their potential. Most men of the Revolution had never fought before, yet they fought and they fought with their lives. The loss at New York was a learning experience. The opposition had been reorganized and reinforced with over 12,000 trained, uniformed soldiers—no doubt an unsettling and fearsome sight to the untrained and largely un-uniformed glorified militia. This demanded that the revolutionists raise the bar… and they did.
This devastating loss could have crushed the revolution. The colonists had lost their New York City stronghold which was the heart of their operation. Washington lost over 5,000 men to death and imprisonment. He was chased from New York, through New Jersey, and across the Delaware with scant supplies, weary soldiers, and freezing temperatures. It was then that Thomas Paine wrote his most famous line “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Those are the times that demand one’s best.
Despite the loss, somehow, Washington succeeded in rallying his band to perform at such a high level that it would seem beyond their capacities. A stealthy Christmas Day crossing of the Delaware River into New Jersey overtook their opposition and regained lost ground by out maneuvering and overpowering an organized, uniformed opposition—albeit a host of 12,000 or more.
In essence, George Washington was able to incrementally increase his troops’ output by helping them realize their potential and understand what they were capable of giving, while maintaining their expectations. He encouraged and prodded his men to continue on, to not give up, to forge ahead, to give, to do what they could. That was their best.
Now Ask Yourself…
Ye all perfectionists… with this story on your mind try this perplexing thought on for size: What is your best? And pause to think…
Or perhaps try it this way: Did those who crossed the Delaware that awesome night know they were giving their best while they were giving it? How do you know you’re doing your best while doing it? What does your best look like? What does it feel like?
At the Battle of Brooklyn, a raw and biting loss, did the men that fought there give their best? How could they know… seeing how most had never fought before? How can you know your best if you’ve never “fought” before? How could they know that they were even capable of winning back their lost territory by forging a river in the middle of the night to fight an army four times the size of their own? The men at Brooklyn were willing to give their lives for a cause. For some, that’s all they had to give. They gave and kept giving. That was enough. That was their best.
Sometimes we perfectionists get caught up in measuring ourselves against others’ achievements whilst in the heat of the battle, per se. That hesitation and indecision will kill you dead in battle every time. So don’t even go there dude. You can’t know your best in the midst of battle, just fight.
Manage Your Expectation
This applied principle serves to show the brilliance of George Washington. He did not demand that his troops achieve results equal to what his own would have been had he fought at the front lines with the infantries. He understood incremental, yet steady progression. He did demand that each man give his best—whatever that best was it didn’t matter—and rely on God for resolution. He knew they were finally capable of a heroic retaliation.
Like with Washington’s men, whatever your best is, understand that your best is completely yours. Your best is not the best of someone else. Your best is not your neighbors. It’s not your bosses, or brother’s or sister’s, or pastor’s, or teacher’s, or evangelist’s, or so forth’s. Your best is not the best of Hollywood’s finest. Your best is not the captain of the football team’s best. Your best may not be the best of the valedictorian’s… it may be better. Your best is yours. And you are the only one that can dictate what your best is. Create your best and then recreate it.
That said, or written, sometimes in life it becomes our turn to courageously do things we’ve never done before—to expand the reaches of personal accomplishment to include higher and higher levels of difficulty and achievement. Still, at other times, we are left to claw, crawl, and slurp through harsher and harsher realities that make basic survival the end goal and focus. In these difficult or harsher times, as in most times, we can’t know what our best is in foresight because our best is most often found in uncharted territory—like the heretofore unheard of surreptitious Christmas day crossing of the Delaware. There are few things in life that we cannot try, try again to achieve increasingly better results as our best builds on our previous best.
Yet still, sometimes we can only give, or only do. Sometimes we can only survive, or just make it through. If you keep moving and doing and making it through, perhaps in hindsight you will realize that what you gave and what you did and the way you made it through, no matter the quantity of giving or the outcome, was in fact your very best. Then you can do what most perfectionists can’t and smile wide and long to yourself, knowing that you’ve given your best. Then next time, set your previous best as your expectation and work to beat that mark.
Know that whatever amount your best is, you can’t know it while staring it in the face. Accomplish first, as you may, and then look at what you’ve accomplished. That is your best today. Your best is not found in the accomplishing but in the post-satisfaction of accomplishment.
In a basketball game I scored 56 points. I had a triple double. Our team won the game. As the mini-celebration commenced afterwards, I went off by myself to sulk. What? Typical perfectionist behavior. To the congratulations that I was offered, I would respond, “Yeah, I can’t believe I missed that last shot though.” My thoughts were not upon jubilation and merriment. I found myself focusing on the open shot I missed in the closing seconds of the game as if that one miss deemed my entire performance a catastrophic failure. I could not see the overall success because I was focused entirely upon one small mishappenstance (my word). I was a perfectionist who was entirely unfamiliar with my best. Looking back, I couldn’t have played any better. That was my best and I couldn’t see it for what it was. Don’t be like that. That is so un-Washington-like and ridiculous.
Be steady, work hard, keep working, keep moving, and just make it through. Do that and you’ll find, like Washington’s brazened hosts, that the yesterday’s best makes the outlook of tomorrow’s best a happy thought that fosters anticipation, excitement, and content without the perfectionist’s paralyzing dread.