Doing the best we can with what we have

There is a quote that is attributed to Zig Ziglar, motivational speaker, that starts like this: “Success means doing the best we can with what we have. Success is the doing, not the getting; in the trying, not the triumph.”

I didn’t even know this was a Zig Ziglar quote until I googled the phrase “doing the best we can with what we have”. That phrase has been in my head for months, maybe longer, so it’s entirely possible that my subconscious picked up on it through one of the many online channels that I frequent. I have a few friends who post motivational quotes like that. But what I really seized on was not the definition of success – I actually don’t think that success has anything to do with it – but the “doing the best we can with what we have“.

Yesterday, I witnessed a big case of road rage on a small quiet street that goes through our local university. In the morning, a driver in a blue car pulled out to pass a stopped black car waiting for a city bus to finish unloading a couple of passengers at a bus stop. The blue car driver pulled out, past the black car, and into the path of an oncoming van. When the bus honked to alert everyone that there was a potential for danger, the driver of the blue car swerved in front of the bus, slammed on his brakes (causing the bus, which was merging back into traffic before the blue car pulled out and the van emerged, to stop very suddenly) and started to verbally – and loudly – berate the bus driver. It all happened very quickly.

The ferocity of the tirade really caused me concern – what was going on with this driver’s day that he felt the need to vent? That he couldn’t wait the few seconds for the bus driver to finish unloading passengers at the bus stop? We were near our local hospital – I wondered if maybe the driver was taking someone to the hospital or was going to visit someone that he cared about. It was clear that the driver was upset at more than just a slow bus and his own hasty, ill-considered actions.

What if we considered that everyone is doing the best that he or she can with what he or she has? Sometimes, we don’t have much – and I don’t mean money. Sometimes we don’t have much patience. Sometimes we don’t have much energy. Sometimes we don’t have much self-love. Sometimes we don’t feel much love from others. Sometimes we feel that we don’t have much significance. And when we feel that we don’t have much, it can take a lot to summon up the ability to act as well as we’d like to in the world.

When drivers on the road in front of me were agonizingly slow, I used to think that they were bad drivers. Now I just think that maybe they are lost, and doing the best they can with what they have.

When my children threw tantrums, I used to think they were being stubborn and manipulative. Now I think they might be tired, hungry or overwhelmingly and surprisingly upset. They are doing the best they can with what they have.

When my clients were unresponsive and reluctant to adopt new ideas, I used to think they were uncoachable and disinterested and not engaged in the process. Now I think they are doing the best they can with what they have.

Do you see a pattern?

Sometimes, we do have more. We did get a good night’s sleep. We ate a healthy meal. We got loving care. And we feel full of what we need to face the world. And when we have more, we can do more and be more. We still do the best we can with what we have.

How might your world be different if you considered that others are doing the best they can with what they have? And how might your own self-compassion change if you considered that you are doing the best you can with what you have? And then, if you need more of something, how would you get that fuel to be more and do more?

Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts today. It has been a long time since my last posting, and I feel like I “owe” my readers an update on the IPPA (International Positive Psychology Association) World Congress that took place in Los Angeles at the end of June.

But time has been scarce, and work has been busy.

I am also doing the best I can with what I have.




Lisa Sansom

Lisa Sansom has her MBA from the Rotman School of Management, and over two decades of experience in teaching and training. Her years of work in the organizational development field have included projects on change management, employee engagement, leadership development, team coaching and employer of choice strategies.

Reader Interactions


  1. Judy Krings says

    Love your re-framing, Lisa. it was great to see your positive psychology car rolling towards character strengths. Wisdom, kindness, self-regulation, and more.

    “It ain’t just about me” I thought as I read your blog. Sometimes we need to pause and allow ourselves to take stock of the story we are telling ourselves.

    Well-done! I appreciate your self-disclosure that made your words hit home for me. Kudos!

  2. Joan McLeod says

    Great post Lisa! You’re describing what I remember and teach as the acronym, “LOST” – when one is lonely (needs attention, betrayed), overwhelmed (anxious or angry), starved (literally or figuratively hungry) or tired … We can only do our best and are a out as well equipped to handle upsets as an average 2 year old 😉 Nothing worse than someone in “a state” and we are all that sometimes!

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