November 6. “It is a funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best you very often get it.” (W. Somerset Maugham)
A wise person once told me that I should assume that everyone is doing the best that they can with what they have. I had a hard time with that thought when it was first sent my way. I had visions that people around me were slacking, not giving their best effort. I expected great things from some people who disappointed me. This same person also once told me that if I was consistently finding that my expectations weren’t being met, maybe it was my expectations that were the problem.
Both of these ideas would seem to fly in the face of what Maugham is saying. At first blush it would appear that this quote is about always expecting the best, and refusing to settle for less. It seems to be about cracking the whip, and making sure that people in our lives belly up to the bar and deliver, by goodness. But, I don’t see it that way.
I think that Maugham’s take on things is aligned well with the philosophy sent my way all those years ago. And I think that it comes from within me.
If my assumption is that people are giving me their best, and I let them know that, then that’s what they will do. People are interesting like that. When you let them know that you expect their best, then that’s what you will get from them. Generally speaking, people want to do their best. What constitutes their best will be different from time to time, as their circumstances will dictate. But it is rare to find someone who consciously decides to slack off and just mail it in.
Now, I am not saying that if I expect the best results that I won’t be disappointed. There is a difference between effort and results. Most times a person’s best efforts will not produce perfect results. And that is where I think some would get hung up on this quote.
I don’t know the context of this quote, or what W. Somerset Maugham was specifically referencing. I can only speak of my own expectations, beliefs and observations. I know from my experience that when I set an expectation for people around me to just do their best, I am very infrequently disappointed.
Today my reflection is on expectation. What expectations to I communicate to others? Am I consistent in communicating that I want people around me to do their best? Or do I sometimes slip into the trap of expecting them to BE the best?