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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Have You Had Enough of "Good Enough"?

The other day as I was flipping through the mail, I spotted my college alumni magazine. Page after page, in full color, were the stories of CEOs, scientists, and others who'd met with success in their post-collegiate lives. There were also the new brides and grooms surrounded by their alumni bridesmaids and groomsmen, and the parade of babies sporting their "future alumni" onesies. Some of the faces were familiar to me, as I remembered them sprinting across the campus plaza, sporting nasty plaid flannel pajama bottoms, a college sweatshirt, and a backpack, en route to the dining hall before they closed up the breakfast service for the morning. For most of us, college was an intense time - filled with some of the best times of our lives, and the worst. It was all extremes in college as we sorted through the perils of young adulthood and a future which seemed fat with possibility. At every turn, our parents and professors seemed to always be talking about our "potential", this nebulous, formless blob of endless pathways.

After graduation, "potential" pops up again, as parents try to steer the young graduate into a graduate school program or the world of work. This time, though, instead of exploring your "potential", as you were encouraged to do in the halcyon days of campus life, your "potential" has an expiration date. "Don't waste your potential" becomes the battle cry, and soon you hear the clock ticking down the years, months, weeks, and days until your "potential" withers and dies, usually around the time of your 30th birthday or the arrival of your first child, and then it's time to crown the next, new crop of children with the burden of "potential".

I don't know about you, but it seems odd to me that we, as humans, can see potential so clearly in the young, while confining our older selves to lives that are good enough. I watched my parents do this - sacrifice themselves to the Goddess of Potential residing in my childhood body. I had piano lessons and voice lessons and ballet lessons and my mom had endless hours driving me around and waiting for me. The dreams she'd had for herself were, instead, placed upon my seven-year-old shoulders and Mom lived a good enough life in order to give me an extraordinary start.

The Good Enough Life seems to be thriving, still, with a steadily growing membership. It's appeal is understandable, because the Good Enough Life seems effortless. There aren't many surprises in the Good Enough Life, there are only routine and repetition - the evil twins of existence who slap down anything that smacks of adventure and creativity. Maybe it's time for something more than good enough?

Now, I'm not going to go all Oprah on you and demand that you "live your best life now." It's hard for me to imagine that someone with billions of dollars doesn't have the means to live her best life! So think of me as a Local Oprah, who's got credit card bills, a pile of laundry, and a stack of newspapers she has to remember to put out for the Monday recycling pick-up, and believe me when I tell you that if you want something more than the good enough you have then you have to do it.

Living beyond good enough means doesn't mean living beyond your means, rather it means transcending your means. If you're the carpool mom, and the pick up the dry cleaning mom, and the cook breakfast/lunch/dinner mom who loved drawing and painting before she was a mother, than push beyond good enough and enroll in an art class. Don't have the money for an art class? Then make a space in your garage or your basement or your kitchen and just do it. Set a boundary for yourself that's kid-free/chore-free/worry-free and go beyond your good enough. Demand this for yourself.

Living beyond the good enough also means ending the excuses. How many times have you uttered the phrase "I can't...because" either mentally or out loud in a day? For the good enough life, this phrase is its motto. I can't take a tap dance class because my husband won't pick up the kids from soccer. I can't write for an hour a day because I have to work late. I can't volunteer at a mission because no one will cook dinner for my family. Eliminate this phrase, and, instead, focus your energy on figuring out how you can!

And, by the way, you might want to also drop the phrase "I used to" from your vocabulary, too. Free yourself from what you used to do, and who you used to be. I used to be skinny and I used to have hair that was not grey. You can twist yourself into knots over "used to", and that sort of navel-gazing is just fine for the good enough life because it drains you and defeats you, and soon, you're saying, "I can't...because."

This is a way of thinking that goes beyond the big, bad scary Potential. In fact, what I'm advocating may seem puny when compared to the grandeur of untapped, raw Potential, but some of the things that have defined me were these small moments when I was stepping outside of the good enough life. So, have you had enough of good enough? I'm just saying.

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