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Then and Now: Is This the Best You Can Do?

This is part of a series of posts featuring earlier content from the Vital Integrities Blog along with updated information and opinions.

In June 2006, I shared this well-known story about Winston Lord:
When Winston Lord worked as an aid to Henry Kissinger, he presented the Secretary of State with a draft of a presidential foreign policy report. The next day, Kissinger called him into his office and asked, "Is this the best you can do?" Lord responded, "I thought so, but I'll try again." A few days later, Lord turned in another draft. Kissinger summoned him the next day and inquired, "Are you sure this is the best you can do?" Lord said, "Well, I really thought so. I'll try one more time." This routine went on eight times, with Lord submitting eight drafts and Kissinger asking each time, "Is this the best you can do?" On the ninth try, after Kissinger asked him the question, an exasperated Lord said, "I can't possibly improve one more word." Kissinger looked at Lord and said, "In that case, now I'll read it."

Only you can determine when you've done your best. So ask yourself every day, "Is this the best I can do?"
Not long ago, I returned to college to continue my education. Last summer, I took a calligraphy class taught by a gifted artist and octogenarian named Sister Jane Mary. The coursework included several projects utilizing various lettering styles, and, because we used permanent ink, any mistake meant starting again. One assignment called for us to letter a familiar blessing for a home and its dwellers. When I first read the verse, I thought of my niece and her new husband; they would soon be celebrating their first anniversary and I imagined giving them the finished assignment as a gift. With that inspiration, I set out to do my best.

After I had finished writing the verse in calligraphy and was admiring my work, Sister Jane Mary looked over my shoulder and told me the piece looked lovely. She then suggested that I adorn it with drawings of houses and trees along the top and bottom of the page. Sister showed me a technique for creating the adornments that looked great, but the painstakingly tedious process added two hours of work to my project. When I had finally finished drawing the houses and trees, she complimented my efforts again and made another suggestion. She had me connect the houses and trees by drawing grass between them. When I thought I was done at last, she offered one more bit of advice; that is, to add a freeform border around the houses and trees. The completed work was indeed beautiful and made a wonderful gift for my niece.

Although we're best qualified to determine whether we've given our finest effort, we must be open to suggestions for making our best even better. Don't just ask, "Is this the best I can do?" Also ask, "How can I get better?"

Sister Jane Mary taught me more than calligraphy last summer. She showed me that the answer to the question, "Is this the best I can do?" is never "yes."
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