I have learned, the hard way, that nearly everything in life boils down to one simple maxim:

All you can do is the very best you can do with what you have to work with…”

This grammatically challenged one-liner serves as a reminder to myself or others, nearly every day. It applies to dogs, relationships, jobs, family, you name it.

You see, I am, by nature and nurture, a perfectionist, a competitor and an over-achiever. I am prone to self-abuse that borders on the pathological when I make a mistake, fail at a goal or otherwise dont exceed my own expectations. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to expect the same from those around me as well. This can lead to some very good things, and some very bad things.

In fact, this column topic was suggested by my assistant, who has heard me say this probably 300 times in his three years in my employ. I have to work diligently at self-discipline to not go completely bat whacky crazy when a task I have set for him is not completed to my satisfaction. Doesnt tend to build esprit dcorps when the boss is a jerk.

On the other hand, this young man has developed, by his own admission, a great deal of motivation to succeed as a result of someone giving him trust and high expectations.

The motto breaks down into several pieces.

First, give yourself and those around you including the dogs a break. Allow mistakes to be a learning experience. The following is from an excellent newsletter I receive in my email from time to time. It carries a lot of truth and follows my mantra to a T.

See, even in business, its not a guarantee that success will follow hard work. The boys on the baseball team gave their allthey practiced, they learned, they tried, and in the end, it didnt work out. But if the fear of failure had kept them from attempting to make it to the tournament in the beginning, think of the experience they would have missed out on. Its the same with work opportunities. What happens during and after the journey has a long-lasting impact on your employees and the company as a whole. Think of what you and your employees would miss out on if fear of failure was the driving force in what youre attempting to accomplish.

As long as you give your all, learn from your mistakes, and approach each opportunity with determination, there wont be disappointment in your effort.

Take your losses in stride, learn from them, and use them to teach and coach the employees youve been asked to lead. As long as you put your best effort out there, keep fighting along the way, and have the courage to persevere, especially when it gets tough, you can have pride at the end of the journey knowing you gave it your all. And thats all any of us can do.

Excerpted from The Oswald Letter: Insights on Business and Leadership

The second part of the slogan is the very best YOU can do.This is critical. We need to be in competition only with ourselves. Improving our skills, improving our game,setting personal bests and consistently raising the bar in a dogs performance, training, trimming or other factor over which we have some control. Because, you see, once you walk in the dog show ring, you cede jurisdiction to the person who points (ie the judge). For a control freak like me, this is monumentally difficult! Learn to understand that if you sincerely have done your best up to and including the ring performance, that is all anyone can ask.

The third piece of the puzzle is, the very BEST you can do.This is a whole new kettle of fish. Half-hearted attempts at greatness will generally produce half-way results. Give every single effort your absolute focus, determination, study and commitment. Whether you are teaching your dog to free stack or learning to trim a new breed, work hard at it. Anything worth doing, is worth doing right. (OK, I stole that one from Hunter S. Thompson.)

Finally, we have to consider the balancing point to the concept, with what you have to work with..,You can work your guts out, give it your most diligent effort and still not achieve your goals. This applies to the quality of the dog in question, whatever challenges you face in terms of competition, personal or financial limitations and any number of other random factors which inevitably pop up at dog shows.

Go ahead. Give it your best shot. It really is all you can do.

As always, this is JMHO.