Do Your Best

Fran Fierson - Cincinnati, Ohio
As heard on the This I Believe podcast, November 16, 2015
Fran Fierson

When Fran Fierson was in the third grade, she had a teacher who insisted that every child do his or her personal best. Ms. Fierson took his advice to heart, and she still lives by those words today.

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I believe in doing your best. Not being the best but touching the limits of what you’re capable of. This belief was instilled in me by my third grade teacher, the most special, honored, trusted, and loved person in my life.

Mr. Myrus was always impeccably dressed, almost courtly, and spoke with the conviction that talking to eight-year-olds didn’t mean that he had to sacrifice proper enunciation or grammar. And he was demanding. Oh, he wasn’t unreasonable or cruel; he simply felt that no matter what your best was, you were obligated to achieve it. Anything less was wasting what resources you had been given.

As luck would have it, I encountered him again as my eighth grade math teacher. I was not, nor ever will be, gifted in math. And thirteen-year-old females, battling as they are with unruly hormones, do not have the energy to devote to square roots or binomial anythings. I remember our struggles for supremacy in class: “I don’t know the answer,” I would wail. “I can’t do it!” “Perhaps you don’t know the answer,” he would say quietly. “Do you think we might figure it out together? How do you know what you can do until you try?”

Mr. Myrus lived around the corner, and I would often stop by to talk while he worked in his wood shop. In this cocoon of sawdust, wood chips, and the smoke from the woodburning stove, I felt safe, and respected, and valued as a person. I knew there was someone who liked me for who I was, someone who, while he always wanted me to do my best, let me know that if I had really tried, that was enough. “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” he’d say. “Stop castigating yourself. Did you try your best? Well, then you’re not a failure.” (And yes, he really did use the word “castigate.” He knew that if I didn’t know what it meant I’d find out. It was part of trying your best.)

Mr. Myrus died in 1978. I had never thought about his dying. He was too young. I felt cheated. But when I think about him now, I don’t feel so cheated. He was my teacher, my confidant, my friend. He taught me to be kind, not only to others, but to myself. He taught me my own value, that to negate my worth was to diminish that value. He taught me about honor, about truth, and about doing my best—and that all feelings and beliefs have dignity and deserve respect. And of all the things I know, this I believe: We can’t all be “the” best, but we can, each of us, be our best, and I know that’s true because Mr. Myrus told me.

Fran Fierson became a teacher after being inspired by Mr. Myrus and other teachers at her elementary school. She even wrote a book about the school and dedicated it to her former teacher. Ms. Fierson currently lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and recently began weight training, continuing her goal of always doing her best.

Recorded at the studios of WVXU in Cincinnati, Ohio