What is “Good Enough”?

I’ve just woken up from a disturbing dream. This dream followed a pattern which is quite common for me, so I thought I’d use this blog post to work my way through it.

In the dream, I was back at University during my final year, on the borderline of failing my Batchelor’s degree. I’d decided I was going to put in “just enough” effort to pass my degree and not any more.

It left me feeling deeply dissatisfied and disappointed with myself. And this dream is actually kinda similar to what happened in real life…

Around twenty years ago, I graduated from University… but only just. Technically I should have failed my degree – I felt completely overwhelmed by my final year project and so I just kept putting it off, and putting it off some more… until I got to the deadline and I’d barely even started. Luckily for me, the faculty staff took pity on me and awarded me a degree even though, strictly speaking, I didn’t really deserve it.

I look back on my life and I can see plenty of occasions where I put in far less than 100% effort… and later regretted it.

I ask myself, what did I do with the time I saved by goofing off? So… I played some more video games? Maybe I had a lie in, nursing a hangover?

Pretty consistently through my life I’ve chosen what was fun or easy, rather than putting in more effort and striving harder.

I can’t help wondering… was it worth it?

How different would my life be right now if I’d consistently put in more effort? What would my life look like if I’d tried my best, most of the time?

Throughout my life, I’ve often wondered about how much effort I should put into things… sure, if you work harder then you achieve better results… but there are costs in terms of time and energy.

Another issue is that in the past there have been times where I’ve buckled under pressure. Often this is pressure that I’ve put on myself. I become so concerned with my performance that I get completely overwhelmed and paralysed.

That’s such a deeply horrible feeling – and I guess it makes sense that in future I’d prefer to go an easier route… putting less pressure on myself to perform, so life feels easier.

But, I wonder… have I been too easy on myself? I picture a spectrum of effort, from zero through to a hundred. Zero would be putting in no effort at all. One hundred would be putting in maximum effort all of the time.

Somewhere along the scale is a point we might call “Just Good Enough”. It’s maybe 60 or 70% along the scale.

Just Good Enough is where I put in enough effort to give myself a comfortable life. I’m just about holding things together, but I’m not putting in more energy than I really have to. I’m managing to keep chaos at bay, but there’s a lot of untapped potential being left on the table.

So I’m left with a number of questions…

  • Can I realistically imagine myself ever putting 100% effort into everything I do?
  • What would be the correct balance between effort and comfort for me? 80% effort? 90%? Or will I not be fully satisfied unless I know I tried my absolute best at everything?
  • How can I avoid the traps of feeling overwhelmed and paralysed when I set myself bigger goals?
  • When I trade off some of my effort in exchange for comfort, is it worth the personal cost in terms of that niggling feeling that I’m not reaching my potential?
  • What are the signs I should watch out for which would indicate that I’m putting in too much effort? After all, athletes who over-train risk injury. People who work too many hours get stressed and burned out. I need to ensure I give myself adequate time for rest and recovery.
  • How much more proud of myself would I feel if I started doing my best at everything?

I don’t want to keep feeling disappointed with myself and my accomplishments. I don’t want to keep looking back and wondering what would have happened if I’d tried just a little bit harder.

I don’t think I’m in danger of becoming a perfectionist. But the uncomfortable truth is that I could be trying harder. I’d feel more proud of myself if I put in a bit more effort.

Maybe it’s time to stop choosing the easy option. Maybe “just good enough” is no longer good enough for me.

Maybe it’s time to start aiming higher and demanding more of myself.

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