Yesterday, I was reminded of something Dr. Maya Angelou once said.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
It seems like logical advice, the kind of thing that shouldn’t have to be said. Yet, it can sometimes be hard advice to follow – maybe not the “do the best you can” part, but certainly the “do better” part.
It’s tempting to think of the process of change as a straight line from A to B. In reality – at least, based on what I’ve seen – it is more like a preschooler’s messy scribble, full of ups and downs, criss-crossing lines and circles.
Changing – getting from A to B and, eventually, to G and K and beyond, forces us to acknowledge past mistakes (innocent as they may have been). We must face our failures. Speaking from personal experience, doing so can be painful, humiliating, exhausting.
Changing also requires us to accept the frightening proposition that we must think and act differently, even if what we must think and do instead may not be clear. For somebody like me, who likes to know where I’m going before I buckle my seatbelt, it can be difficult to let go of the familiar while simultaneously agreeing to take a new, potentially undefined (potentially imperfect) path.
To truly do what Dr. Angelou recommends requires a conscious choice and, sometimes, a great deal of trust. It may be more comfortable and less troublesome to just let things stay as they are, to focus only on the “do the best you can” part. It may be tempting to tell ourselves that change isn’t needed; that the way things work, or feel, or fit right now is okey-dokey.
Yet, if we don’t resolve to do better when we have the opportunity to do so, we’ll never know what is possible. We’ll know what is, but not what could be.
Which reminds me of the words of the poet Erin Hanson:
“There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask, ‘What if I fall?’
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?”