Be the best darn shrubbery you can be

No, this isn’t a Monty Python reference.

It’s actually something Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said:

“Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.” 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 1967

I’m neither Black nor a historian, so (to be honest) I feel pretty unqualified to write anything about Dr. King.


As we’re getting full-swing into 2020, his is advice we all could listen to.

We can all aim to be the best of ourselves, wherever we’re at.

Even though sometimes it’s easy to be intimidated — by other people’s expectations, or even by our own expectations of ourselves.

Let’s take this past weekend, for example.

My husband was out camping (yes, he’s one of the crazy ones who goes hiking in the dead of winter), so I had all weekend to myself…


— me

I even tried calendar-blocking my days to make sure I fit everything in.

I was super excited about this new Calendar-Blocking Me. I was going to do SO MUCH art stuff, PLUS hang out with four different friends AND call my parents AND donate blood AND shovel snow.

Not sure what exactly I thought would be different THIS time, compared to all the other times I’ve tried to do a million things in a weekend.

But I set those expectations for myself.

And did they crash and burn around me by Sunday evening?

Ohhhh you best believe they did.


(Heck, they started crashing and burning around me by 10 a.m. Saturday morning.)

Because I was overwhelmed by the expectations I had set for myself —

Expectations that were kiiiind of unrealistic.

(Apparently calendar-blocking works only if the blocks realistically reflect how long something ACTUALLY takes me? Shocker.)

The problem is, I keep expecting myself to be something I’m not.

I keep expecting myself to be this super-organized, crack-of-dawn-waking, overwhelmingly productive person.

And yes, it’s good to have goals.

But it’s even more important to acknowledge who you actually are right now.

  • If you can’t presently run a mile in less than 12 minutes, stop expecting yourself to.
  • If you can’t presently cook an elaborate meal flawlessly, stop expecting yourself to.
  • (If you can’t presently design two entire sticker sets from scratch in less than two hours, stop expecting yourself to.)

Work towards it, yes. Take little steps to get closer to that goal.

But stop expecting to be able to do it all overnight (or in two hours).

Instead, in the meantime

  • Be the most cheerful 12-min/mile runner you can be.
  • Be the most enthusiastic spaghetti-and-meatballs cook you can be.
  • And yes, be the best slow and methodical sticker designer you can be.

Or, as Dr. King said:

“If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. But be the best little shrub…”

Note: I realize this speech means something different to me, as a 21st century white girl, than it did to the junior high students Dr. King was speaking to in 1967. But I think the basis of it stands true for all of us — whether young teens in 1960s Philly or goal-setting humans just trying to live their best life.

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