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September 28, 2011 / missmarymax

Pt 2: Enough With The Good Enough (SDWW)

Ursula Goodenough

This post is brought to you by Ursula Goodenough.


As a kid, I saw a book by the lady above on my mom’s bookshelf and announced, immediately, that I was changing my last name. How marvelous must that be, being Goodenough?  Being good enough legally, bindingly, and on paper?

There are a few reasons I didn’t follow through on this, and a few reasons I’m glad about that choice. But the top one is this:

“Good enough”  — is fucking irrelevant.

…Let me explain.

Good enough, like “perfect,” is something we strive toward as a prerequisite for something else. Even rhetorically, good enough begs the question for what?  We don’t want to be good enough, period. We want to be good enough for a purpose. Good enough for that sexy creature we’ve been eyeing, good enough for our parents’ affection, good enough for that job that doesn’t make us dead inside. We want to be “good enough” the way we once wanted to be “old enough” — to hang out unchaperoned, to drive a car, to move away from home. The more we dream about being “enough,” the more it takes on its own mystique. But “enough” — on its own — is arbitrary to the point of meaninglessness. It’s a fluid standard defined by what it’s for. “Tall enough to ride this rollercoaster” could mean 6 feet or it could be 3.  The rollercoaster matters. And we only invest in being “enough” because we want a ride.

So, what is this rollercoaster?

Sometimes the rollercoaster is a concrete thing: a job, a university, a relationship. But when it comes to concrete things, “enough” is usually a misnomer. We busy ourselves trying to be pretty enough for that rad person across the dance floor or smart enough for That Grad School.  Meanwhile, that rad person just got dumped by zir seventh consecutive soulmate and has sworn off relationships to pursue a year of celibacy. Measuring whether we’re “enough” has not even occured to zir.  (Likewise, the funding at That Grad School has been cut, and they’ve chosen not to accept any new students this fall. Except this one kid who’s related to the dean. True story.)

Mind you, we tend not to know these things. We almost never know the full scope of what plays into things working out — or not working out — as we wish.  When I forget this, I remind myself about a seemingly unrelated experience: editing.

I spent a few years on the editorial board of my university’s literary magazine, for which we’d annually wade through an onslaught of short stories, poems, and photographs. In the early weeks, we’d meticulously and blindly rank each submission.  But the closer we got to the release date, the messier this process would become.  During layout, we’d inevitably lose a few of the pieces we’d initially chosen to accept (and gain a few we’d initially set aside.)  This had absolutely nothing to do with the pieces themselves; we’d simply come up against practical concerns — space, for instance, or the balance between poetry and prose — that would require us to sacrifice specific pieces to serve the larger picture.

Still, when I get a rejection letter, I don’t think, “Well, they probably received several submissions in this format and needed to go with a piece that would provide more balance.”  I don’t think, “There’s a significant chance this was not about me.”  I think, “I must suck. They don’t want me; I must not be good enough.”

I think this — and think I know this — despite the fact that I don’t actually have all the information — can never, really, have all the information. I think this despite the fact that it makes me feel like crap. I decide that it’s about me being enough because enough is something I can, presumably, control.  I can work on becoming “enough.”  But if “enough” is irrelevant, that isn’t actually helpful.  It’s like putting on a pair of high heels to meet the height requirements for a rollercoaster — when that ride is closed for repairs.

When I continue to treat what I want as something that requires me to be “enough,” I actually make it harder to achieve.  Focusing on being “enough” postpones achieving what I want; it adds barriers and  focuses my energy in the entirely wrong place. When I invest all my energy in becoming smart, cool, pretty, or skinny enough — I effectively waste the time I could spend being what “enough” is supposed to get me: loved, happy, and generally made of win.

I do not always know this. (I’ve been writing this post saying, Damn, girl, can we start acting this way a bit more often?) But I definitely understand it better than I have in the past.  Not so many years ago, my amazing friend Beth brought it to my attention.  She interrupted my regularly scheduled spiel of “no one deserves to struggle but especially not you; everyone deserves to be happy but especially you,” — and asked — what on earth does “deserving” have to do with it?

As it turns out– struggle is. Joy is.  There is no point system.

When I tell you — or myself — that we “deserve” better, I’m effectively saying that we are (or are doing) something to earn that better thing. But the truth is, we don’t have to earn anything. We don’t have to be anything.  To paraphrase my new favorite book, love (and all those other good-life things) are not rewards you must earn; they are gifts.  They’re yours. You are here and you are human, and they are yours.

You don’t need to be good enough (on paper or elsewhere) to go after (and receive) what you want.  You just need to make the choices available to you, the choices you can make to live the life that makes happy.

You (and I) can spend our entire lives trying to be enough to live as we’d like. Or we can live that way, from here on out.  Regardless.



Leave a Comment
  1. Holly / Sep 29 2011 4:06 am

    thought-provoking and fantastic.

  2. beth / Oct 1 2011 1:36 am

    “There is no point system.” That’s what I’m talking about. 🙂

    Thanks again for this. It’s made me think again about ways I’ve let rankings and dichotomies and enoughs infiltrate my thinking.


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