As long as I could remember, parents, coaches, employers and teachers were always instilling the concept of "trying your best".
I was never 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. I would be at wits end, out of breath, and ready for home.
As a young adult, I found myself falling into the same trap. I would say the same things to my employees and children that I once detested. I would say these things, thinking I was being this great motivator, but I would get that familiar look. This was the look of 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.
Don't get me wrong, there are times when there is a serious lack of effort, and the words "trying your best" should be used. With some, these words roll off their back, and they just march on. With others, these words are nothing more than de-motivating and belittling.
Finally, 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 it is the younger ones that are especially motivated to succeed. As these kids get older, they fall into some bad habits. I have found either they lack the attention they need from their parents, don't have adequate role models, or both.
The successes I can tout as both 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 is an issue, I ask them: "is this your best?" Occasionally I'll get the response "no, but I can try harder." Mostly, I'll get a response like: "OF COURSE THIS IS MY BEST!" The latter response is usually where we back off, or just cut ties all together. What other options are there? Do we keep repeating ourselves?
It is the latter I want to focus on, the ones that 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".
We all know the definition of insanity, but yet we are trying to get young people to try harder, using the same techniques that are already not working, and expecting a different result. Try different -- try approaching what you are doing from another angle. In football, maybe it is as simple as changing your stance. At work, maybe it is a different approach to what you are trying to accomplish. At home, maybe it is a one-on-one conversation between parent and child discussing the many options they have to resolve an issue.
So remember, when "try your best" isn't the answer, maybe the answer is a simple as "try different."