This Phrase Kills Success Like Roundup Kills Weeds

There's a little bromide that is used when someone is about to fail, usually in a spectacular fashion. Some well-meaning but misguided soul (often the soon-to-be-failure themselves) will utter the deadly incantation: “Well, the best you can do is all you can do.”

Here that screeching sound? It the sound of the brakes on whatever endeavor might be in process. The violent head-on collision of a bad attitude obliterating a difficult (but worthy) goal.

The fact is, “the best you can do” and “all you can do” are usually uttered when we believe we're about to fail, and…

  • We know we didn't plan thoroughly enough.
  • We know we didn't prepare deeply enough.
  • We know we didn't practice enough.
  • We know we didn't perform well enough.
  • … and we have decided we don't intend to do anything about it.

So when we say “the best you can do is all you can do”, we're building our case for why failure is acceptable.

The truth is, “the best you can do is all you can do”… usually is neither your best, nor is it “all you can do.”

If it's not too late to change course (and it almost surely is too soon to quit), here are some questions to ask that might pull your feet out of the fire:

  • Is this really the best I can do? Or do I have more inside me? What would motivate me to do better?
  • Is this really all that I can do? What else can I do? What have I not tried?
  • What can I do differently?
  • What can I stop doing that  might be hindering me?
  • What can I add? Take away? Re-combine?
  • Who can I ask for help?
  • What are all my assets, and how might any and/or all of them be useful to me now?

And if it is too late (it almost never is) … and if you know in your secret heart that you did neither the best you could do, nor all you could do, take some time right now to write down:

  • What do I need to do better next time?
  • How will I do that?
  • What more will I need to do next time?
  • How will I do that?

Maybe it's time to replace doing the “best you can do” with “doing what it takes.”

Ray Edwards is a world-renowned copywriter and communications strategist, writing for some of the most powerful voices in leadership and business including New York Times bestselling authors Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) and Tony Robbins. Ray is a sought-after speaker and author, hosts a popular weekly podcast, and blogs at