I’ve been thinking a lot since I wrote about my personal ‘something more syndrome‘ and my efforts to fight off feeling overwhelmed. More importantly, I’ve been taking a few steps: being rigorous about keeping my to-do list pared down and realistic, communicating my personal boundaries and keeping more “white space” in my schedule. Things have been better, for sure.
But some moments I still feel like I’m letting myself down, not living up to my potential, blah blah blah endless bougie brainwashing. A good parent does more! A good parent gives more! A good mom does X, Y, Z! The truth is that there’s an evil little perfectionist that lives inside of me, and when I try to just ‘let it go,’ she tries to beat me up about it. I need to find a way to turn her off.
I realized I needed not just a defensive strategy, but a pro-active one. I needed to give myself slack by defining what I can live with in solid, concrete ways. Basically: I need to nail down what “good enough” means for me and what that looks like. Only when I get particular, concrete and specific does my inner evil perfectionist go to sleep.
I know “good enough” is very counter-intuitive to our Insta-culture of documented awesomeness, “killing it,” and general “SELF-LOVE GLITTER SPARKLE LIFE IS PERFECT” vibes you see on the Internets a lot. But “good enough” is honest and authentic — and if you’re like any other media-oversaturated American female or average perfectionist, “good enough” on most days is likely still pretty dang amazing.
So I spent a little time journaling and drafting, getting down what “good enough” looks like in key areas of my life where I felt a niggling pressure at not living up to some standard or another. I went a little more deep than a typical vision board, I suppose. Don’t get me wrong — I like vision boards as much as the next person. And if they work for you, then use them! But for me, vision boards are about values and ideals. Figuring out ‘good enough,’ though, is about identifying the realistic specifics that put you in the ballpark of these ideals and values. Like if health is a value, a 20-minute run is a good enough way to fit it into your very full, very busy life. It’s not a 10k fitness homerun, but it’s good enough.
Serious navel-gazing alert here, but my hope is that by sharing this in the wilds of the Internet, anyone else plagued with a bad case of overwhelm/’I need to do just something more’ perfectionism can see: when you nail it down, “good enough” is liberating, fun and kinda even…great. Sure, it’s not quite FABULOUS and “Feelin’ Myself” in a Beyonce/Nicki kind of way.
But it’s still pretty wonderful.
This whole experiment ended up being a series of posts, since each ‘section’ devoted to a life domain turned into a little mini-essay on its own. But these are my general overarching principles that seemed to link all the different life areas — home, style, relationships, wellness, beauty, parenting — together.
(And just a note: I know the use of the hashtag is a bit silly, but I frankly got bored typing ‘good enough’ all the time. I also use the #GoodEnough hashtag to shorthand when I’m talking about it as a mindset.)
#GoodEnough is Anti-Perfection And Pro-Authenticity — Not Pro-Mediocrity
It’s very anti-American to even contemplate a just-short-of-ideal life and self. We’re conditioned to go for the best, be exceptional and generally be shiny happy people. And there’s nothing wrong with striving for excellence and impeccability, of course; sometimes our jobs require it. The problem is that we’re human, and we will inevitably fall short. And chances are, you will beat yourself up about the gap between humanity and ideal, especially if you’re female.
Perfectionism, to me, is a deeply feminist issue and worthy of its own treatise — but I’ll just say for now that freeing yourself from internalized definitions of who and what women should do, look like and feel would be much needed liberation for lots of ladies I know.
Part of that work is defining for yourself what constitutes feeling accomplished in your roles in life — basically, laying out your personal metrics of success and eschewing externally imposed standards. Figuring out what’s “good enough” for you as a parent or partner or general stylish-person-about-town means making room for mistakes, limitations and imperfection — while still reflecting your ideals and values. It doesn’t demand an inhuman level of consistency and high performance, but allows you to be a real human being, as well as be true to yourself.
Accept That It’s OK Not To Function At 100% All The Time, In Every Area Of Your Life Simultaneously
One of the demons of feminine perfectionism is a pressure to be all things to all people all the time — and when you can’t live up to that, you feel like you’ve failed. But in my experience, my various roles and priorities rise and fall in importance and prominence as life itself shifts and changes, and my own energy and acuity oscillate. Some weeks I nail down the mama part in a way that fulfills me — but I fall short of my novel’s word count for the week. Some weeks I kill it as a creative writer, but I might not be able to make handmade meals for the kiddo like I want and I don’t exercise as much as I need. And…that’s okay. Some areas of life demand a stellar A-game, but other areas can take “good enough,” at least for now. Everything has a season.
Realize That #GoodEnough Is About Freeing Up Your Time, Energy And Attention To Focus On What Matters At The Moment
Because everything has a season, maybe the key of what makes this work is being mindful of what demands sharp, skillful attention — and what can be downscaled to accommodate this. Again, it’s accepting that not everything is going to be a-m-a-z-i-n-g all the time — and accepting the inherent limitations of time, energy and attention we all have. Once you realize what can be good enough for now, it allows you to divert your internal and external resources to where you need to excel.
The Criteria For Fulfillment Is Internal, Not External
It’s tempting to nail down “good enough” by making a list of actions and things. A ‘good enough’ partner does X, Y and Z; a ‘good enough’ mama (what a heretical notion!) does A, B, and C. But “shoulds” and “does” blankets the whole enterprise with a heavy sense of burden and obligation — which is what nailing down #GoodEnough is meant to avoid.
For me, I think it’s more to do with figuring how you need to feel in your life in order to feel at home in yourself and your milieu. I realized, for example, that if I feel equilibrium, serenity and fun in most areas of my life, I’m good. There are a million different ways to achieve those emotions in my wardrobe, my parenting, my work and my relationships — and those ways are constantly adapting to changing circumstances and information. But the feeling is that bare minimum that makes up “good enough” — and if something doesn’t create those feelings, it really should go. Ultimately, it’s the feeling inside that is the ultimate criteria on whether or not it’s working — not living up to some picture of what you think awesome style, wellness, parenting or what have you is supposed to look.
What’s #GoodEnough For You Is Different For Someone Else
This is a bit “duh,’ of course, but it needs to be said: what works for Gwyneth Paltrow (gah!) or the hippie Brooklyn mama or the super-CEO mom is going to look and feel radically different from, say, a stay-at-home wife and mom with a more traditional lifestyle. It’s really fun to see how other women calibrate their lives — I think it’s a great way to learn and grow by seeing other women be creative in their strategies — but ultimately it’s your life.
Nail Down Specifics, Shortcuts and Strategies — And Re-Evaluate Them As Needed
Once I nailed down the heart and feeling of what ‘good enough’ was for me, then I came up with a list of strategies, ideas, tips, tricks, hacks, rules, guidelines, whatever for the life areas I focused on. (I am an extremely systemic thinker/nerd.) But I also reminded myself that none of this is set in stone. (Feeling like things are set in stone and can’t be adjusted is a hallmark of demonic perfectionism!) Sometimes, if I sense something isn’t working or is feeling particularly heavy with obligation or “shouldness,” I try to just drop it. That sense of heaviness often blots out the good effects of that strategy. If it’s not helpful, it’s not good enough.
Sometimes You Need Reminders Of #GoodEnough Looks Like
Ultimately, a #GoodEnough life is really about spaciousness: giving yourself a margin to go slower, improvise, figure it out and adjust without being hunted down by perfectionism, self-loathing and pressure. Within that margin lies self-acceptance and grace. (Hopefully!)
That sounds abstract, I know. But I think it’s important to talk about how women’s lives shift shapes to accommodate new roles and commitments — not just children, but caring for parents, acquiring authority at work, experiencing ‘friend attrition’ as everyone you know moves, dealing with financial stressors, etc. Some call it ‘trade-offs’ or ‘life balance’ or ‘juggling,’ but I don’t know if those words really capture it. ‘Trade-offs’ imply losing out. ‘Life balance’ is…well, no one I know feels particularly ‘balanced,’ and balance implies all areas of life receive equal weight. And ‘juggling’ makes me anxious.
But it can be done. I remember a profile of an artist I read in Real Simple ages ago (like when the magazine first came out.) I clipped it and set it aside for some reason — something about the artist’s juggling of being creative, being a mother and being an independent businesswoman spoke to me, even as a free-wheeling twentysomething. (I don’t remember the woman’s name, sadly, but I remember the pictures of her work and that she lived in Oregon.)
I lost that clipping to the vagaries of life and many bi-coastal moves. But I do remember it vividly, and why it struck me, particularly as someone who wanted to be independent, creative and yet happy and fulfilled.
Basically, at the heart of her life was an implicit realization that as some areas of her life came to the fore and demanded more attention, others simply couldn’t command the same amount of time and energy — though she still wanted them in her life in some form. She was designing for her business and raising a young child, but in order for her to feel successful in those areas without burning out, she needed to make compromises in other areas of life. She and her partner had to scale back their socializing with friends, for example, and they had to accept that their living space was maybe not going to be the most aesthetically together, i.e. things got messy. They once enjoyed cooking, but now ate carryout or kept meals super-simple, like spaghetti with sauce, because they wanted to spend their evenings together as a family interacting with one another, or getting enough alone time to recharge. She changed the way she made art because she had a young child in her life — but it made her art more interesting, daring and better, because she had less time for self-doubt and procrastination. She even changed the way she journaled so that she could fit it into her life. Many of her habits and practices didn’t look the way she imagined — and sometimes she experienced some frustration or impatience at this. But she figured out what mattered to her and why — and then let the “how” of it be good enough for that moment in life.
There was something so honest, elegant and practical about her acceptance of all this, and in the way she made it happen in her life — she figured what was ‘good enough’ in some areas of life so she could feel successful overall in the ways that mattered to her. When I think about ‘good enough’ in my own life, it looks just a little like this: accepting, humane, and full of its own grace.