When Is Good Enough Good Enough?

When Is Good Enough Good Enough? My friend sent me an article this week from the New Yorker magazine, Improving Ourselves To Death. In Western culture, the pressure mounts from all sides to do everything well, better and best. If the article is TL;DR, here is the takeaway:

“We are being sold on the need to upgrade all parts of ourselves, all at once, including parts that we did not previously know needed upgrading.”

As a licensed Mental Health Counselor, I need to take continuing education credits. The most recent course I took was about how to treat Body Image Disorders. I felt a lump in my throat when I read this part: children raised to think they’re never quite good enough, often develop perfectionistic disorders. Like anorexia, bulimia and other illnesses of seeking physical “perfection”.

Let’s be the devil’s advocate for a moment, in favor of perfection: in some areas, good enough is most definitely not good enough. Like moon landings. Brain surgery. The knife-throwing act at the circus. Landing a jumbo airliner in the Hudson River.

But in nearly all dimensions of our lives we can take it easy on the self-improvement.

“Once you realize that it’s all just an act of coercion, that it’s your culture trying to turn you into someone you can’t really be, you can begin to free yourself from your demands.”

Here are a few examples of “good enough” bringing the joy:

Parenting. The concept of the “good enough” parent is well established in family therapy. The author of this article points out parents don’t have to be perfect, nor can they be. “No child . . . needs an ideal parent. They just need an OK, pretty decent, usually well intentioned, sometimes grumpy but basically reasonable father or mother.”

Hair and makeup. It’s wonderful to go make-up free or makeup-minimal when you feel like it. Or to air-dry your hair and let it be beautifully imperfect. These “good-enough” habits also create time in the morning to sip coffee/tea and reflect.

Ahh, a good enough morning.

Singing, dancing, playing an instrument. The beauty and pleasure of the arts come from the soul of the artist. Of course, technique and practice are important. But I’d rather hear/see/perform a passionate performance than a perfect one. (Heh, not that I could make a perfect one for the next thousand years.😊)

Diet and exercise. Unless you’re training for the biathlon (where good enough is probably not good enough), a reasonable amount of activity and a diet of simple healthy foods is good enough – to be healthy, without perfectionism.

Housework and home decor. I am a compulsive cleaner who’s trying to cut down. I hope you have already cut back and tossed your white gloves, so you can enjoy a “clean enough” home. Our homes don’t look like Martha Stewart’s perhaps, but our art, colors, imagination and presence are good enough.

“You’re not in the perfect business. Stop pretending that’s what the world wants from you. Truly perfect is becoming friendly with your imperfections on the way to doing something remarkable.” Seth Godin

The final word, from Some Like It Hot.

Keep joy in your heart, and stay fabulously imperfect, xo,

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  1. As a perfectionist, I’ve been working at being less hard on myself (but not working too hard, since even that can tap into my perfectionist leanings!), letting go of things that just don’t matter. It’s challenging for me to let go. Thanks for the lovely article, Patti! A great reminder to be kinder to ourselves.

  2. What an astute and timely post. Yes it does seem that women in particular are being pushed in so many arenas. Excellence is a fine goal but perfection is not. It is unfortunate, however, that this upcoming generation is facing so many obstacles. Being at their best, is probably a requirement. But I agree, perfection is not attainable nor desirable.

  3. Great post Patti. I have had to adjust my expectations of my abilities to clean, cook, etc. while I work full-time. Many times I have to look at my apartment and say, “it’s good enough for me” even though it would not be up to many other’s standards. I used to be such a perfectionist when I was a child and any craft project that didn’t come out exactly the way I imagined it in my head was a source of great despair.

    • I feel that pain, when your projects weren’t “perfect.” No one’s were, but you felt so sad. xox

  4. I admit to being a perfectionist and finding it hard to let go. But with age, I’ve learned that indeed in some areas good enough is indeed good enough. It’s a slow process, with baby steps, though. Your post is spot on, Patti, thank you for that! xxx

  5. Post is spot on. Worded very well. We as women put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect, I’ve learned to step back and relax more! But it was a process and it came with age. Lol

  6. Hi, Patti,
    Perfectionism for me comes from many sources: 1) my innate drive as a musician (pianist-composer); 2) severe, early traumas; 3) perfectionist parents; and 4) familial predisposition. Yikes. I am at peace with that. (I’m a “crazy cat lady” and don’t have kids either! Yay.)

  7. You make such an important point, Patti. Like anything, perfectionism taken to the extreme–especially when it’s not merited–can cause other problems. I just rewatched the Mr. Rogers documentary and was reminded of his message that we are all loved, not because we are spectacular and perfect and high-achieving but because we ARE.


    • Oh that documentary was so uplifting. Would that the world had a million more Mr. Rogers! Thanks for coming over, xox

  8. I enjoy reading everyone’s experiences with the pursuit of perfectionism, but could we please leave the politically charged “what I did last week in a sanctuary city” commentary for a different type of forum?

    • I try not to censor comments, except for personal attacks. It’s OK to disagree with a commenter. xo

  9. How timely and wonderful, Patti! Thank you.

    I was an anorectic teen back in the the late 60s/early 70s. I still have body dysmorphia and disordered eating, but they are 95% under control. Over the past 18 months, I have gone from wearing 3X-4X clothing to a healthy size 12. I’m 66, attractive and enjoy being (my idea of) well dressed.

    Recently I purchased a ticket to a benefit dinner to raise money and awareness for immigrants in the sanctuary city where I live. The event had many well known chefs donating their time and talents to this cause. I was thrilled to be able to go and had planned an outfit to wear that was comfortable and vibrant. The afternoon of the dinner, I was getting dressed when the Perfection Voices started. “Your upper arms look horrible. You can’t wear red at your age and size. You can see your spare tire in those pants. That red lipstick is going to bleed into the wrinkles around your mouth and make you look like an old hag. Your ass is flat and you look old.” And so on. I was ready to just chuck everything onto the closet floor and stay home. Instead, I sat and concentrated on my breathing for about 10 minutes and asked myself why this dinner was being put on. Then I asked myself if I cared how other people there looked. Finally I asked myself if other people there truly cared how I looked or if they were attending to support a cause and enjoy a fabulous meal. By then, I was (for lack of a better word) rational enough to finish getting ready. I fluffed up my long silver curls, put gloss on my very red lips, smoothed down my firey red sweater and headed out of the house.

    The evening was better than I’d anticipated, I did not once think about how I looked or my “lack of perfection,” I sat, chatted and ate with 2 Syrian immigrant cooks who were going on to Washington D.C. with a representative from HIAS PA, met a couple at my table who own 3 wonderful restaurants and whose executive chef was contributing a mole dish from his native home to the dinner and had a chance to thank and shake hands with one of my favorite local chefs. I would not have wanted to be anywhere else. I was and am MORE THAN good enough by just showing up and being me! Quote by Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

    • Hello Cee. We share a history of eating disorders, my anorexia also in the late 60’s. It was a terrible affliction, I’m sure you remember.

      Your story, beautifully told, about the benefit dinner is a lesson for ALL of us, any day. There wasn’t a “perfect” person there, just good people doing good things. xox

  10. Hello, Patti,
    In some respects, perfectionism has really hurt me. However, I am a compulsive cleaner with no intention to change that, as a clean home makes me feel peaceful. Cleaning is quite therapeutic for me. I love Martha Stewart, too! Have a great day!!

  11. It’s hard, as a parent, to walk the line between encouraging a kid to do his best and not sounding like good isn’t good enough.
    I think this is especially a problem for women and girls, who have to do everything at 100% in order to be taken seriously, whereas a guy can do 60% and consider it good.

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