Ashley Kelly

Are people doing the best they can...most of the time?

Ashley Kelly

One of the books I read last year was Rising Strong by Brene Brown (highly recommended).

In her book, she talks about the difficult emotions that accompany failure and what it takes to get up and keep getting back up after a blow.

I remember having a mind-bending moment when she introduced the concept that people are doing the best they can with the tools they have, most of the time.

I remember putting the book down and staring off into the abyss while I tried to process what I had just read. My immediate response was to resist this fairy-tale BS and come up with four hundred reasons why people are actually the worst. There was just no way that could be true.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who had or has a pessimistic reaction to the idea that people are doing their best most of the time. I mean, all you have to do is turn on the TV and watch the news and you’ll see plenty of examples of people being terrible.

As I sat with the idea and let it permeate my mind, I thought about my reaction and what it said about me.

Am I doing my best most of the time with the tools that I have?

What would the best version of myself behave like? Have I been acting like that person?

After what seemed like hours of thought, I came up with the answer.


Sometimes, I am doing my best. And sometimes circumstance, emotion or impulse get the best of me and only in hindsight can I see exactly what I could have done better in that situation.

My hope for anyone that has ever been hurt or disappointed by a failure on my part is that they could understand and forgive me…or at least empathize with me.

So, based on that and my hope that people would do that for me, the next question I had was:

Why did I immediately turn to the negative and assume that people aren’t doing their best?

How is it fair for me to have the expectation that people will always cast me in a positive light yet I don’t do the same?

Here’s what I came up with.

Assuming the worst in people is a defense mechanism.

To lead with the assumption that people are doing their best means that we have to be open to understanding, forgiveness and empathy…all of which require vulnerability. And being vulnerable is hard. It takes courage.

It’s easier to hold ourselves to a lesser standard so we can avoid the pain of getting hurt or seeing the parts of ourselves we don’t like in other people.

It takes effort to rise above that and will take consistent effort to challenge and change our assumptions about other people.

“My life is better when I assume that other people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.” Brene Brown.

Sometimes, when other people give their best, it might be hurtful, energy sucking and painful. I’m not saying you have to tolerate abuse, but holding the idea that people are doing the best they can might help open your mind to understanding their behavior and give you the courage to be forgiving and empathetic.

At the end of the day, we're all just trying to figure things out.

We’re all trying to make sense of our lives.

I want to believe that people are doing the best they can with the tools that they have. I think believing that pushes us to be better people. It pushes us to hold ourselves to a higher standard, even when others around us don’t or can’t.

What do you think?

Do you think people are doing the best they can with what they have?

Complicated is an excuse.

Ashley Kelly

When you buy into the “it’s complicated” story, what you’re doing is one of two things (or sometimes both):

  1. Avoiding what needs to be done

  2. Creating a facade to cover up the reality that you haven’t thought something through

Complicated is an excuse.

Things aren't that complicated. Relationships aren't that complicated. Your product isn’t that complicated…and if it is, see #2 above.

Whatever decision you're facing, isn't that complicated.

Complicated happens because you make it so and then sell yourself the story you created.

You start inflating the importance of irrelevant details and get pulled off of the path that will lead you to the outcome you want. Welcome to overthinking mode.

Each additional complication you dream up buys you more time to avoid the pain of doing the work. The real, hard work it takes to accomplish something, solve something, create something, fix something, build something.

Next time you find “it’s complicated” stopping you dead in your tracks and holding you back from accomplishing something, ask yourself these two simple questions instead of buying into the complicated story:

—What’s the outcome I’m looking for?

—How can I accomplish that?

I know, they seem simple…too simple really. But, simple is good.

Circle back to these questions as many times as it takes.

Your mind will shift from problem to solution and your focus will be on your plan instead of excuses that don’t serve it.

Things might be hard, but they are seldom that complicated.

What's your contribution to the failure?

Ashley Kelly

I was having a conversation with my sister the other day and we got to talking about failure. Specifically, we were talking about relationships — with partners, family, friends and colleagues — that had failed in our lives.

As my sister was describing an anecdote, there was a moment when she was outlining in perfect detail everything the other person had done wrong.

She finished her explanation with “I know I’m 50% at fault too, but I just wanted to point that out.”

We paused for a moment and then I asked her, “Ok, if you’re 50% to blame, what was your contribution to the failure — what was your 50%?”

There was silence on the other end of the phone for a long time.

And then, she replied back...

“That’s a good question, I’m not sure.”

My intention wasn't to point fingers at her because, well, I’m guilty of doing the same. I was interested in her analysis of what she thought she did wrong.

This got the gears in my mind turning and I started thinking about the times in my own life when I've said,

"I know I'm 50% to blame, but..."

Was I saying that because it was "the right thing to say" or because it diffused the tension?

I’ve said those words out loud many times but haven’t really thought about what I was contributing to the failure. Ultimately, it was because I didn’t believe I had done anything wrong. Or at least, I believed that the other person was waaaay more at fault than me.

Talk about self-righteous. Pfft.

When things fail, it’s natural to want to point blame at anyone or anything around you — intentionally or not — and excuse yourself from the situation.

We’ll blame our boss for being difficult.

We’ll blame our coworkers for not pulling their weight.

We’ll blame our partners for not listening.

We'll blame someone for saying something that provoked us.

There are an endless number of reasons. It’s easier to pick from a list of excuses than to test our own flaws. Looking deeply at ourselves is hard, it hurts and it’s uncomfortable.

In life, things fail.

Communications fail.

Relationships fail.

Projects fail.

And even if you can admit that you’re partly to blame and you say those words out loud, do you believe that? Do you really believe that you could be or are part of the problem (or even the whole problem)?

Acknowledging that you bring 50% of the fault is a great first step. To take it a step further, spend more time analyzing yourself the next time things go wrong instead of scrutinizing someone else's every fault.

Don't succumb to that old friend denial and absolve yourself of all responsibility. That's your ego talking and it's refusing to accept that what you don’t like could be true.

It’s possible that the other side is more to blame. Maybe they are at fault. Or, maybe not.

But, that's not important. What is important is to ask yourself what you brought to the interaction? What did you contribute to the failure?

Know that…because that’s your responsibility.

Treat others like Yay Onions

Ashley Kelly

Today is a great day to say…

I love you

I’m proud of you

Thank you

You’re beautiful

You’re awesome

You’re doing a great job

It’s always a great day to express your gratitude, your love, your kindness. I think we underestimate or forget how powerful sharing positive words can be.

My boyfriend and I volunteered at an organic farm in Costa Rica for a week last April. Even though we were only there for a short time, it was one of our favorite experiences during our year abroad. While having a conversation over lunch one afternoon, this particular topic came up and one of the owner’s of the farm mentioned an experiment aimed at highlighting the potency of our words.

It’s a simple experiment —we’ll call it Yay Onion/Nay Onion — where you cut an onion in half and put each half into a separate jar. I’ve also heard of this done with an apple as well. Over the course of a week or so, you’re supposed to speak to Yay Onion with lots of praise, love and positivity and Nay Onion gets spewed mean spirited hostility.

The result?

Yay Onion remains unscathed and Nay Onion rots into a gross ball of mush (poor Nay Onion).

I haven’t conducted the experiment myself to see the results first-hand, however, I do believe in the power of words — positive and/or negative — when spoken to others and to ourselves. And, even though we might not actually rot the same way as poor Nay Onion, there’s no doubt that negative words can leave us feelin’ pretty rotten.

This idea was hypothesized by a Japanese ‘scientist’ and entrepreneur named Masaru Emoto. He began studying water and his opinion is that our human consciousness, the words we speak and the thoughts we think can impact the molecular structure of water.

He divided small amounts of water into petri dishes and grouped them into the ‘Goodies’ and the ‘Baddies’ (not actually what he called them in his study…at least I don’t think). He said nice things to the Goodies and mean things to the Baddies and then the petri dishes were frozen.

The result?

The frozen Goodies produced beautiful crystals and the Baddies formed ugly crystals.

At first read, your thought might be ‘ok, sure who cares’, however, since our human bodies are composed mainly of water, maybe there’s something to it.

Unfortunately, it turns out that there are a lot of holes and errors in Mr. Emoto’s work. Despite that, I still like the idea and that small new-agey part of me wants to believe that maybe it’s true. I mean, clearly this dude really believed it.

From my own experience, I notice that if my vibe is good and that’s what I’m putting out into the world, then that’s exactly what I receive back — from people, from animals, from the universe.

So, the takeaway for today is that it can take just one act of loving kindness or one compliment to change someone’s day and start a ripple effect of goodness.

Tell your partner how much you appreciate them, tell your mom she’s awesome, compliment a colleague, thank someone you’ve been meaning to.

Help keep the molecular structure of our water beautiful by treating people like Yay Onions.

It’s always worth it.

Not sure if you should publish your piece? Read this.

Ashley Kelly

So you’ve written something.

You’re not sure if it’s any good. You don’t feel like it’s ready yet.

You keep tweaking and fiddling around with it hoping that the next change is the one that’s going to perfect it.

You sit on it and come back to tweak it again later with fresh eyes.

I totally get it.

You want it to be good.

Reeeeally good.

I’d assume that if you want to share something you’ve created, it’s with the intention of providing value to someone - whether that be advice, entertainment, education or enjoyment.

And it’s amazing that you want to provide your audience (even if it’s an audience of one) with that value.

So, write what you want to say and not just what you think your audience will want to hear.

Don’t lose the wisdom in your message because you’re trying too hard to perfectly filter it.

Done is better than perfect...and perfect doesn’t exist anyway.

Write your message exactly the way you’d say it. The way you would actually say it.

Because maybe what you have to say is exactly what someone needs right now.

Start there.

Put it out there.

Thank you for creating something and sharing it with the world!