Agreement 4: Always do your best.
As with the first three agreements – be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, and never make assumptions – at a first glance, this last agreement seems simplistic and redundant. But it ain’t.
This is the catalyst agreement. As Ruiz puts it, “it allows the other three [agreements] to become deeply ingrained habits” (75). We are fallible human beings. No one is perfect. Our best will be different day to day, and situation to situation. We do our best, but accept that our best will not be perfect. Out best will be different when we are sick, or poor, or stressed, or fed up. It doesn’t matter, so long as we always do our best.
Within Chinese Medicine there is a saying, “you are perfect just the way you are, and you need a lot of work” (unknown author). At our core we are perfect because we are essentially made of universal or cosmic energy. Being human and in physical form is where the imperfections come in. It is this paradox of perfection and imperfection that manifests itself into the dichotomy and central “problem” of the human condition. The internal inherent (spiritual) force pushes itself outward, and the more external acquired (conscience) force pushes inward. No wonder we as a species are crazy: wonderful and terrible all at the same time.
Ruiz’s Fourth Agreement shows us how to deal with this dichotomy:
Under any circumstance, always do your best-no more, no less…doing your best is taking action because you love it, not because you are expecting a reward…when you do your best you learn to accept yourself…you don’t give the Judge [the internal critic] the opportunity to blame or judge you…and you can only be you when you do your best…everyone has the right to personal freedom: the right to be themselves…when we do our best we make this happen. (78-87)
On writing: The shitty first draft clause. We all know it. We are told by writing teachers, mentors and our parents to “do our best” even though it will be shitty. Often the fear of the shitty first draft turning into the shitty final draft keeps us from writing the thing in the first place. But look at it this way, perhaps it is the shitty first draft that is more perfect than a perfectly polished revision. In the shitty first draft, maybe that’s where the gold, the jewel, the truth is hidden: specifically when we are writing what we love.
Have you ever done a complete revision of something, thinking you got to because the first idea was “just plain shit” and who the hell would want to read it? But then, bloody and beat up from absolute frustration and failure in trying to make it perfect, you go back to the original draft (the shitty one) only to find it had been the “right one” all along? I’m not talking about the need for revision as far as grammar and mechanics or even craft. That is also an act of love and requires us to do our best. What I’m talking about is essence. The soul of the thing. How often have you edited the soul right out of a piece? I’ve done it. And I did it because I thought no one could love the “ugly child” I created. I wanted to make my ugly child a princess to please someone else. Only it wasn’t a princess, Goddam it, it was an ugly child. And I loved my ugly child, she made me happy. I hated the princess, she made me miserable.
Doing our best as writer’s takes courage because when we do our best we are following our own compass. No one else’s.
Thanks for reading.
Ruiz, Don Miguel. The Four Agreements. California: Amber-Allen Publishing. 1997.