Do What You Can With What You’ve Got

Today is Wednesday, so this post is on outstanding performance.

Last week I did a post where I mentioned Margaret Wheatley’s great little book Turning to One Another.  The very last page of that book has a great story.  It comes from the Aztec people of Mexico.

“It is said by our Grandparents that a long time ago there was a great fire in the forests that covered our Earth.  People and animals started to run, trying to escape the fire.  Out brother owl, Tecolotl, was running away also when he noticed a small bird hurrying back and forth between the nearest river and the fire.  He headed towards this small bird.

“He noticed that it was our brother the Quetzal bird, Quetzaltototl, running to the river, picking up small drops of water in his beak, then returning to the fire to throw that tiny bit of water on the flame.  Owl approached Quetzal bird and yelled at him: ‘What are you doing brother?  Are you stupid? You are not going to achieve anything by doing this.  What are you trying to do?  You must run for your life!’

“Quetzal bird stopped for a moment and looked at owl and then answered, ‘I am doing the best I can with what I have’.

“It is remembered by our Grandparents that a long time ago the forests that covered our Earth were saved from a great fire by a small Quetzal bird, an owl and many other animals and people who got together to put out the flames.”

I love this story.  It illustrates one of my favorite beliefs, the power of one.  It also makes a great point about becoming an outstanding performer – do what you can with what you have.  Many people will miss deadlines and say, “I didn’t have all of the information I needed.”  Outstanding performers either make sure they get the information, or do the job the best they can in spite of the missing information.

When I was an undergraduate at Penn State, I studied journalism.  Bob Farson was one of my favorite professors.  One of his favorite sayings was “Go with what you’ve got.”  He always told us that we would probably never have all the information we needed or wanted to write a story, but the deadline was more important that a complete story – “You can’t print a blank newspaper, or go on the air at 6:00 and say ‘give us five minutes to finish getting ready’.”  He was right.

The common sense point here is simple.  Outstanding performers do the best with what they’ve got.  If they don’t have what they want or need, they get it.  If they can’t get it, they do the best they can without it.  Outstanding performers don’t make excuses, they deliver.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website for more common sense.  I am not posting regularly on my blog right now, as I want to concentrate on this one.  It is still up though.  Please don’t cancel your RSS feed as I will be posting there occasionally.  And, you can still get a free ebook version of my book 4 Secrets of High Performing Organizations by visiting

I’ll see you around the web and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand, my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.