The fourth agreement: You’ve got to be kidding!

It happens this way …

Version 4For any recovering perfectionist, reading “always” and “best” in the same sentence is a temptation to relapse. To my great relief, Don Miguel Ruiz softens this statement early in his discussion of the fourth agreement:

Under any circumstance, always do your best, no more, no less. But keep in mind that your best is never going to be the same from one moment to the next. Everything is alive and changing all the time, so your best will sometimes be high quality, and other times it will not be as good. When you wake up refreshed and energized in the morning, your best will be better than when you are tired at night. Your best will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick … . Your best will depend on whether you are feeling wonderful and happy, or upset, angry, or jealous.

Phew! “Always” and “best” are relative not absolute.

During her 1965 college class in adolescent psychology, Dr. Anna Starr – who was as old as God and as wise – told a room full of us white-veiled novices, “Sometimes good enough is good enough.” That was news to young women who were on the path to perfection. How we ate, walked, prayed, slept, studied, did chores, and recreated were surrounded by rules that encouraged us to do each activity perfectly. Of course, being young and sometimes a bit clumsy, we broke dishes and Sacred Silence; we scorched veils and spilled coffee on senior sisters; we dumped a container of meat on the pantry floor, quickly scooped it up, and served it without a second thought.

Since none of these activities reached perfection, we had to confess these shortcomings in front of our Novice Director and each other. I’m not sure we felt too much self-judgment or regret — most of what we did were accidents – but we certainly felt these were legitimate bumps on the road to perfection.

The upshot was it took me decades to rid myself of shame when I made a mistake. Mistakes were moral failures, I thought, rather than keys to learning. Then one day I read somewhere, “Make more mistakes.” Bam! That thought slowly brought me around to a more balanced approach to navigating life on this planet. Recently, I wrote in a poem, “Believe what you want. I believe failures set us free and eternity holds enough time to get things right.”

And maybe that’s the key: always do your best to keep on learning and growing and finding joy and happiness in the every day of every day. That’s an agreement I can work on.



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