Instead of trying so hard to be perfect, how about learning to be satisfied by being “good enough”?
123RF Photo/ Katherine Martin
My dear Singularians, my mad-on this week is not a peeve that can be neutralized with a mere chocolate bar. Oh no. I’m turning my anger into a column for my readers who’ve fallen prey to the insidious notion hyped by many “pros” in books, TV, the Internet and radio: “perfectionism” and the idea that “phenomenal-ity” equals success. If you want the perfect life, buy the experts’ books and poof, it’s yours in 3 – or 10 easy steps. (The exact number is chosen by the stars, the cards — or a 12-year-old marketing wunderkind on Madison Avenue.)
We’ve all seen the plethora of blather mucking up the self-help shelves over the last 25 years. And while there are tips we can certainly glean — usually common-sense simplicity — the crime here is the nonsense expectations. Yet, it sells. It sells because the concept of perfection is seductive.
Becoming numero uno has always been an American dream. Who doesn’t want a Wall Street portfolio to rival the size of the tax code? Or to invent a smart-phone that you can “hear me now?” on Saturn? But perfectionism is an American cultural pastime in the extreme and imperfect means you’re lazy and haven’t worked hard enough to graduate to perfect.
In human relationships, the danger’s even more serious. Surrounded by a culture of phenomenal perfectionism, the normal human can only reach one conclusion: we’re all a bunch of screw-ups. So, like wiggy mad hatters we buy into this stuff. Then, by “Step Two,” when despite our best efforts our boyfriends are headed to Tijuana, our dog is eating our “family rules” chart, and our relatives are cutting us out of the will – what we’re left with is: we’re miserable failures. All this despite the fact that phenomenal perfectionism is a boldface impossibility! And yet we’re being duped by a ridiculous and yes, questionable challenge.
So let’s make a simple wording switch. Instead of phenomenal, how about “good enough.” Good enough doesn’t mean lying in a Barcalounger with a tall glass of Schnapps and watching your life run amok. No. Good enough is tough. It demands real work. It requires real commitment, not to an impossible ideal, but to making the best and most honorable choices for us, and realizing that life often hands us lemons.
Good people get scammed. Good partners are sometimes left behind. Good workers sometimes lose their jobs for no justifiable reason. And only some of that is within our control. But “good enough” lets you do things you can control, in your way and in your best interest, without searing your soul or violating your values.
Getting It! Your Personal Strategy for “Good Enough” vs. “Perfect”
* Perfect is results driven. Good enough is effort driven – a far more realistic and important quality, regardless of outcome. In fact, we learn more from our mistakes and failures than from our successes. True success is in trying, in our determination, in realizing there will be failure and having the chutzpah to get back up again.
* Perfect sets up unrealistic expectations. If we’re not constantly in love, if our sibling was born with a temperament like Genghis Kahn, if the moron we trained gets our promotion, we feel it’s our fault for not being perfect. Good enough, on the other hand, lets us set up life in the Real Lane. We understand the difference between rotten circumstances and rotten us. We see limits, evaluate them, forge strategies and make solid choices based on our effort and what we have to work with.
* Perfect means we’ve “failed” if we haven’t met that lofty goal. Good enough means we tried our best – a far superior character trait. We can move on with sadness, but without self-flagellation and without a sense that we’re doomed to failure.
* Perfect suggests a shopping list, a one-size-fits all standard: Prince Charming by our side, a Harvard degree, enough stocks and bonds to own a small country. The shopping list is often about things that will give us a “successful” appearance. Good enough allows us to make life a custom job. We can author it our own way. It’s not about what’s right – it’s about what is right for us. Our values about internal success are principle-driven and don’t change by price tag or paycheck.
* Perfect suggest absolutes and takes no prisoners. It’s A-list or F. Good enough embraces forgiveness and acceptance – workable situations – even if they’re not perfect. It requires understanding that there isn’t one, but competing values that have to be assessed and factored into truth.
* Perfect can infuse our whole self-image. We believe we’re the screw-up. Good enough, on the other hand, allows us separate our very human imperfections from our entire self-view. It not only puts other people’s foibles in perspective, it permits us to continue to love ourselves, unconditionally — major for our well-being.
Life is a glorious work in progress. So the next time you see some so called expert hawking “Ten Ways to Make a Million in 30 Days” or “How to Be Phenomenally Happy Forever,” remember, you may gain some insight. But first consider: “What will it take for me to be ‘good enough’ – the best I can be?” That requires, not “perfection” but rather knowing where you want to go, setting life by your rules and by your very personal realities.
Copyright © Marnie Macauley / 2017 Singular Communications, LLC
Advice guru Marnie Winston-Macauley — therapist, author, speaker — has been a radio, TV, and syndicated advice columnist and counselor for over 20 years. Witty, wise and totally irreverent with a self-professed loathing for psychobabble, she’s written over 20 books and calendars, along with hundreds of relationship columns and features for prominent publications. She has her MS degree from the Columbia University School of Social Work. In media, her work has garnered her Emmy and Writer’s Guild Best Writing nominations. She is widowed and now living single. For personal advice, you can also find Marnie Macauley on Liveperson.com, on Presto Experts or Thumbtack/Las Vegas. She invites you to join her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.