At the end of a recent podcast interview, the host asked, “What is the number one leadership principle you live by?” 

Without thinking, I said, people really are doing the best they can. I call it The Best Principle.

As he repeated my words, I could sense that a part of him didn’t entirely agree—“Some people could do better,” he said. 

Adamant, I hammered home how important (and kind) it is to adopt this as a belief. “When we believe that people really are doing their best, we ask different questions, and seek more understanding. When we believe they’re just lazy—as is often the case with ‘this young generation’—we treat them as if that’s true, which destroys our ability to help them succeed.” 

A few short moments later, as I neared the end of my walk, I was struck by how much I needed to hear that message. 

Rounding the corner, I looked up and saw two of my neighbors chatting—one I enjoy interacting with, and the other I avoid like the plague. Before I could escape, the one I enjoy asked me, “How’s your family doing?” She also asked about the pain I’ve been experiencing. 

Seconds after I started sharing about the nerve pain, the woman I avoid cut me off and suggested that I must be dealing with the same kind of injury she was dealing with. Annoyed, I cut her off, “That has already been ruled out.” That’s when I heard these words ring so loudly inside my head that I had to pause… 

We are all doing the best we can with what we have. 

In that moment, I understood why I have to do this work—I need to learn it! 

Quieting my mind (and my mouth), I leaned in and listened to what she was saying. As she shared about what her physical therapist taught her, I tried to stay open to receiving a nugget that might be helpful. The harder I listened, the more I realized that this neighbor was just trying to connect. 

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that every behavior that repulses me about her is her effort to try to connect. And, honestly, I used to (and still do sometimes) engage in those behaviors. At the time, those were the behaviors I thought would help me to connect. 

Of course, gossiping and comparative suffering never produced a deeper connection, and yet I engaged in both because that’s what I knew. 

Now, I know that what actually creates deeper, more meaningful, connections—sharing about myself, my inspirations, struggles, hopes, and dreams, and listening when others share—I strive to take this approach. Most people need more time and trust-building to share, but when they do, the connection is palatable. 

When they don’t, I try to find more comfortable topics to relate around. But I haven’t always had this skillset. And, back then, I really was… 

Doing the best I could with the awareness I had. 

“Do the best you can,” Maya Angelou said, “And when you know better do better.”

Thank God I learned to apply those words to myself during many moments of great struggle with my decisions and results. I have tried so many things, and failed many, many times. Sometimes those failures have felt devastating, like the end of the world. 

Until very recently, I also believed that I would never get the lesson if I didn’t beat myself up. Today, I know that fearful thinking needs a loving response, not more fear. Thus, I strive to use my painful lessons as an opportunity to offer myself compassion and kudos for putting myself out there. 

I believe it’s this—offering myself grace—that has given me capacity to offer grace to others. Knowing deep inside that… 

We really are all doing the best we can with what we have… 

Judgments of myself and others have decreased. 

When we’re not judging, we can see the true desire behind most “annoying” behaviors. When we understand the real motives, which are often to feel a sense of belonging, connection, and/or contribution, we can listen for ways to validate, support, and encourage the behaviors that will get us the results we’re looking for. 

Adopting the belief that we are doing the best we can with what we have… This is how we get the best out of all people, including the annoying ones. 

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Here’s to your greatness,

Misti Burmeister