You can only do your best
And more lessons from my wonderful mam
This newsletter is quickly becoming “lessons I learned from my late mam” and I’m not mad about it.
I was fortunate enough to attend a school with a really good Ofsted record. So good, in fact, that the houses in this school’s catchment area are considerably more expensive than the exact same homes in other parts of the region. You are virtually paying for the privilege of top tier schooling through the value of your house (good ol’ capitalism).
I am extremely grateful to both of my parents, who both worked hard (and were lucky enough to buy property in the 90s) so my siblings and I could get a really good education. The downside of attending a school full of gifted and talented kids is, of course, the never-ending pressure.
Those pressures take many forms: pressure from the school board to maintain their 99% pass rates, pressure from teachers to be their progenies and, for some kids, pressure from your parents to produce a clean sweep of A*s - nothing less.
Unlike many of my high school peers, I was very lucky to have parents who did not pressure me to perform academically. Perhaps, being the youngest of three children, my parents had simply given up by this point… or they just realised that pressuring your kids to achieve top marks does not always yield the results they hope (they were clearly very ahead of their time).
As an anxious person (and even more anxious child), exams were never my forté. However, I typically aced coursework and essays - I should have realised then that I was a copywriter in the making. One exam failure that particularly stands out in my mind is my French AS Level exam, in which I got a D. I’d never gotten lower than a B before, so this shook me to my core. Not least because I wanted to study French at uni, but also because the rest of the class had also flunked the course and there was clearly something wrong with our understanding of how to answer the questions.
It was at this point that I realised not every parent is like mine. Don’t get me wrong, I was gutted about the mark (which I resat six weeks later to get an A*, by the way). But I wasn’t worried about telling my parents. I have always been my own biggest critic and I knew they wouldn’t double down on me for this less-than-ideal result. However, in the sixth form common room, I sat quietly as my peers shared their worries about going home that night and telling their parents about their marks and how they would react when hearing their straight-A kid had a D on their record.
Of course, there was clearly an issue with how we were taught to answer the questions and, if I remember correctly, this was the first year of a new style of exam paper. So, the low scores were clearly not a reflection of our francophone abilities. Regardless of how the score was achieved, many of us saw it as a smudge on our perfect records and, as a result, a lot of parents would see it that way too.
As I already mentioned, my own parents were more than understanding. Even if I hadn’t resat and achieved a good mark, they wouldn’t have been angry or even disappointed in me. At the basis of my mam’s reasoning for this was a phrase she would say in response to any academic hardship or worry: “You can only do your best.”
Doing your best at work
And that lesson has followed me into adulthood. When you really think about it, you can’t do better than your best. So, why do we berate ourselves and our children for not meeting our expectations? This one little sentence has helped me to frame the importance of effort over attainment, and highlight how what we achieve is only as good as the blood, sweat and tears we put into it.
Whether you’re a freelancer or employed, you’ll face struggles every day that make you question whether this job is right for you. That might be losing a pitch to a competitor, receiving critical feedback from a client or failing to win an industry award… in all of those scenarios, the results don’t really matter, as long as you know deep down that you did your best. There are always new and better opportunities, and the right one for you may just be right around the corner.
Were you a child of pressuring parents? Or did your mam and dad not really care about how you performed in school? And how has this experience shaped your relationship with achievement in adulthood? I’d love to know your thoughts over on Twitter @ContentByTheSea or reply to this email for a confidential chat.
☀️ You may have noticed that this is the first newsletter from me for two weeks! That’s because we’ve just returned from a lovely winter break to Tenerife. I’ve never been to the Canaries before but we were pleasantly surprised and returned to the cold, wet North East feeling suitably rejuvenated last Wednesday evening.
📚 On my jollies, I read lots of books… here’s a whistlestop tour:
📕Clean by Juno Dawson - Dawson tells the story of Lexi, a teenage drug addict and her first experience of rehab.
📕Meat Market by Juno Dawson - Another one from Dawson’s London collection, this one is about Jana, a 15-year-old girl who is scouted by a modelling agency at Thorpe Park and is launched into the world of international modelling —warts and all.
📕 Stay Another Day by Juno Dawson - Yes, I pretty much read her whole back catalogue last week. She’s great and this is another corker.
📕 All The Young Men by Ruth Coker Burks - A stunning memoir from Coker Burks, who singlehandedly cared for hundreds of men and women suffering from, and eventually dying from, HIV and AIDs in Arkansas in the 80s and 90s. I can’t recommend this enough - such an incredible story of one woman’s efforts and you can’t help but adore every person she meets along the way.
📕 Hunger by Roxane Gay - Another memoir, this time from author and educator Roxane Gay discussing body image, diet culture and trauma. Not an easy read but very glad I did finally tackle it as it really made me think about my own relationship with my body.
📕 Rough by Rachel Thompson - A non-fiction piece about how sexual violence has made its way into the bedroom. A really interesting deep dive - I listened to the audiobook.
That’s all from me this week! Catch you next week with more about mental health and work in the online world.
Enjoyed this? You might like these past issues:
26 January: The way to a person’s heart
19 January: How do you work?
12 January: Being a morning person is overrated
5 January: Treading lightly into 2022
15 December: How do you compare?
8 December: Lessons on mental health from Henry Cavill
1st December: Give the gift of rest this Christmas
24 November: Who are you?
17 November: Christmas comes early