Can you get behind the beauty of “good enough?”

by Kristin on April 27, 2011

in Love, family & community

Photo by Mel B.

I try to avoid gender-specific posts, but today I have to go ahead and ask this question of all you women (men, there’s probably a version of the question for you, too, but I’m not a man so that’s hard for me to nail down):

What non-physical trait in your mom is the one she would never want to pass down to you? In other words, what was/is her greatest personal struggle—the weapon she used to regularly shoot herself in the foot, and make her life and relationships and everything else more difficult than they needed to be?

I wanted to call my mom this morning and ask her, but she and I are incapable of a short phone conversation and my day is packed, so I decided to guess. (Maybe she’ll stop by and comment, and let me know if I was right.) Here it goes: I think my mom would say she never wanted me to go through the pain and stress of being a perfectionist.

I’ve learned to do without perfect, but what’s enough?

In general—thanks in part to my mom’s transparency about her struggle with perfectionism—I think I’ve fared OK in this area. I’d rather have people over for dinner a couple times a month in a less-than-spotless house than never have people over (because there’s no point in waiting for this house to be spotless). I just finished knitting a sweater that had a few, umm, shall we say “funky” areas (aka:holes that weren’t supposed to be there). Rather than pulling out rows of stitches to go back and “do it right,” I decided I could go back later with a needle and yarn, for some classic knitting band-aid action. (Anyway, I’ve convinced myself that mistakes give knitting that undeniable handmade look.)

For me, just having kids and working, even part-time, sent all hopes for “perfect” out the window years ago. During my years as a single mom, I’m pretty sure the word “perfect” left my vocabulary entirely. (How can you shoot for perfect after a divorce?)

But even though I lowered the bar to a reasonable level and ditched the word “perfect,” another word took its place: “enough.” “Is this good enough?” Am I a good enough mom? Am I spending enough one-on-one time with my kids? Am I doing enough on my blog? If I just do the laundry today, is that enough? Do I call my parents enough? Do I exercise enough? Could I be doing a little bit more of all of these things, a little bit better?

The answer to those exhausting questions seems irrelevant—who decides what “enough” is, anyway?—yet they still hang over me. Do they hang over you? If so, I think you’ll be as intrigued by the title of this new book as I was: Good Enough is the New Perfect. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but I wanted to post about it today because the authors, Becky Beaupre Gillespie and Hollee Schwartz Temple, are going to be in town tonight, at a Chambana Moms event.

Accepting “good enough” as the new perfect

As the introduction explains, “This is not a book about settling. Or mediocrity. Or about anything other than getting exactly what we want as mothers, professionals and women. (Not everything we sort of want, but the things we want most.)”

What I love most about the premise is that it doesn’t hold up a standard for all women to reach for, in a “you are powerful and can do anything” way. Sure, we are powerful and can do anything, but maybe all those anythings aren’t things we really want, or things that will make our lives better. As the intro goes on to say “This is a book about refusing to live by other people’s rules,” and, “It’s about knowing that what’s good enough for one woman isn’t necessarily what’s good enough for another.”

So I guess that’s where we begin. I stop looking around me, at what other women are doing or not doing, and I decide what’s important to me. It’s about knowing who I am and what I love, and setting priorities based on that knowledge (very much like the Love List, isn’t it?). It’s about saying no, moving on, making choices, and shutting down the guilt monsters. And it’s about balance: work and play, self and others, present needs and future hopes.

I still have lots of thinking to do around these matters, but I’m excited to figure out what my own, personal “new perfect” might look like. Are you in?

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  • Cyndi

    Perfect is not a word I embrace very well. I come face to face with so many imperfections in my life as a woman & mommy that I kind of think even striving for one area of ‘perfect’ would wear me out. I’m always going to be the kid that colored outside the lines with crayons. Luckily my mother was always telling me that every drawing or coloring page was beautiful. I need to take on that attitude more now that I’ve got more than crayons to master :)

  • Karyn Climans

    “Enough” is tough to achieve because it implies “balance”. Every time I achieve a sense of balance in my life, I get knocked over again.
    I totally agree with the notion that “perfection” has no place in my life. I gave up that goal many years ago!
    Great post!

  • Jennifer

    We are riding the same wave today, indeed. Good enough for means a cluttered house but happy kids. A messy car but one that works. It means wonky knitting and sometimes staying up to late. In essence, it means being the agent of my own decisions. And that’s good enough.

  • sarah louise

    That looks like a great book, I love the title. But I’m disappointed it’s about Moms. So few books are just about being women, but then the women who were moms would say, that is so vital to how we live, as those of us who don’t mother would say, not having them is so vital to how we live, and in many ways so opposite.

    But yes. I try to move beyond the mess to good enough, since I know I’ll never get to perfect.


  • Kristin T.

    Cyndi, exactly–even striving for a little bit of perfect is exhausting (both physically and emotionally). As I read what you wrote about your mom, it made me realize that although my mom’s standards for herself were too high, she never expected me to be perfect. That acceptance of me did a lot to break that cycle of perfectionism, I’m sure.

    Karyn, you’re right, “enough” requires balance. And it’s not like we can ever achieve that balanced position once and for all–we have to continuously made adjustments and compensations as we move through life. (Thanks for stopping by!)

    Jennifer, I shouldn’t be surprised that we were both writing on the same topic today (check out Jen’s post, people!). We are so often on the same wavelength. I really like the picture you painted of your version of “good enough,” especially the idea of being the agent of your decisions.

    sarah louise, I like to think everyone can get something out of everything–every blog, every book, etc–but I know that’s not realistic. I try really hard to make my parenting- or divorce-specific posts universal in some significant way, but certain topics are just very specific, by nature. When I finish reading the book I’ll let you know if I think it has more universal application.

  • HopefulLeigh

    Your question about what my mom would not want to pass down to me is an interesting one! I’ll have to ask her next time we talk. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s fear. She’s always telling me I’m so brave or courageous for the way I live my life, that she could never do these things, even something as simple as driving into Chicago. But I don’t think she gives herself enough credit! She’s definitely pushed herself in recent years and I’m proud of her for that.

    As to the myth of perfectionism, this is not something I’ve really struggled with. For so long I believed that I would never measure up because of my own self-hate, it has been a relief to embrace that I am good enough as I am. This has been my motto for 15+ years now! Glad that the insights of this book are resonating with you.

  • Joi

    Here’s my classic remark when my doctor told me that I was a perfectionist — when I was telling him why I could not possibly rest and get well: “How can I be a perfectionist when I don’t do anything perfect?” So the discerning honest question each time I get stuck in this rut is, “Just who am I trying to please and why?” That’s how you figure out what’s good enough. And it took me many years to gradually let go of trying to impress God, too. Big sigh!

  • Kristin T.

    HopefulLeigh, there are so many different ways that we can sabotage ourselves, aren’t there? I wonder if what you’re describing about your past—never imagining that you could do anything perfect—is a close cousin to perfectionism. There’s still a standard being held out there, and we either push ourselves relentlessly to reach it or we abuse ourselves by saying we’re not good enough to even bother trying. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I’m glad that you’ve found a new, healthy motto to live by.

    Joi, yes, that is a classic remark! It’s possible to be so focused on that goal that we can’t even see that the crazy struggle is, itself, the perfectionism, not the actual reaching of the goal. The other thing that’s interesting is how big a role self perception plays in all of this. I’m sure lots of people who know you think MANY of the things you do are “perfect,” even though you can’t see them that way, yourself.

  • The Modern Gal

    I can — and already have — embraced good enough. I was more of a perfectionist when I was younger, but as I’ve grown I’ve realized good enough is just fine for so many things. Perfection is exhausting, and the people I know who strive for it aren’t any happier than I.

  • Rebecca

    Kristin, this resonates with me so much – thank you. I’ll look forward to cracking open this book – hadn’t heard of it before. For sure, perfectionism is one my mom wouldn’t want to pass on. And another biggie is worrying about what other people think. And I’ve managed to get a big dose of both. So this concept of “enough” is very relevant for me. I measure myself CONSTANTLY, and think that others (including God) measure me too. But that’s a crappy image of God. Needs revision! I would LOVE to figure out what my personal “new perfect” might look like.

  • Jenn

    Hi, stumbled over here from twitter…I love this post. I’ve been learning a lot lately that a lot of Jesus teaching was that we aren’t good enough, so get over it and move on. It’s not about us being good enough, it’s about channeling good I guess, which since God is good would be Him…sounds like a good book, I’ll have to add it to my list.