By Daniel Dunaief
We’ve all had moments when we wonder: Is this good enough?
The answer depends, in part, on the importance of the outcome. If we’re a cardiac surgeon and we have our hands inside the chest of someone who needs a new valve or stent, good enough doesn’t cut it. We need to make absolutely sure we’ve done everything we can because no one wants to open up someone’s chest a second time to correct a small error or to retrieve something we should have removed.
If we’re driving a car on a slippery road, a turn that’s good enough on a sunny day may not be sufficient in the rain or on ice. We may need to slow down enough that we don’t need to hit the brakes as we head into the turn.
Those are, of course, more extreme examples. Fortunately, most of us live in a world where what we do doesn’t seem so critical. We might be writing a paper about Shakespeare, filing legal briefs, collecting receipts for tax purposes or shoveling snow from our driveway. Each of those tasks, in and of themselves, may not seem to require our best because we have better things to do, we want to get through the class, or we’re tired and we need to give ourselves a rest.
Nonetheless, the smaller efforts can, and do, add up. When we’re shoveling snow, good enough might miss a slick patch of ice that our wife or best friend might slip on while they’re walking to the car. Going beyond good enough could prevent the discomfort or injury from falling.
Even an essay about Shakespeare may require us to think more deeply about what it means to be in love. Down the road, that might help when we’re considering ways to express our admiration or appreciation of a partner, giving us wisdom and words beyond our years. Great words boost the power of our sentiments, just as the sight of a whale breaching transforms a trip to the beach into a memorable outing.
Of course, operating at full strength or beyond good enough for everything may be so physically and mentally draining that we might spend too much time on activities we consider trivial, leaving us with fewer resources to tackle bigger challenges.
So, how do we determine the difference between an activity that requires us to be good enough and another responsibility that mandates something more?
For starters, we may not be capable of more than a few extraordinary efforts in a day. That may be a product of how much sleep we get, how much we can control in our day or how we feel, especially if we’re battling a head cold or some chronic condition.
Keeping ourselves healthy and making sure we have enough energy can and will give us the ability to vault us over the good-enough threshold.
Good enough can become a habit, just like so many other efforts. We can run a mile every other day or we can go a bit farther each time. We may find that good enough for others, or even for former versions of ourselves, is just a start. We may raise the bar for the expectations we set for ourselves to the point where good enough today is so much better than earlier efforts.
Routine or even mundane activities likely don’t require perfect performance. Doing them well, or even beyond “good enough,” keeps us sharp and focused for our more important tasks and also sets a good example for our children, who are watching and listening.
We can and will improve our lives when we decide to raise our own expectations for good enough.