I learned early in life that “perfect” felt good. Sure, it was a high goal, but in my estimation, entirely attainable in some things. Of course, the price was also high. Aiming for perfection meant most of my daily allotment of time, attention, and energy had to be focused on the object of my desire. So say for example if I wanted a perfect score on a test at school, that meant less time watching TV or spending time with friends. But that seemed a small price to pay in exchange for the feeling of accomplishment and rush of pride that came with seeing “100% – Perfect!” written across the top of my paper. I was hooked.
I learned to give it my all. To always do my best. Never give up. And never settle for less than I was capable of. And I enjoyed a lot of success as I carried my work ethic, “never say die” attitude, and belief that perfect was possible around with me.
So when I heard the professor in my first class at seminary instructing us to be “good enough” at whatever we chose to do with our lives, I remember thinking, “Good enough? I could never live like that!”
How can good enough be better than perfect?
“Good enough” summoned up visions of patched together home improvement projects, rescued dinners after trying a new recipe, and hairstyles that didn’t quite live up to my expectations. For me, “good enough” had always meant: This is where we’re stopping. No more trying. We surrender and quit and accept that this can’t get any better. Good enough meant we missed the mark so let’s make the best of the messed up outcome. Maybe we can hang a picture over the mismatched wallpaper. Pour lots of ketchup on the burnt roast. Wear a headband.
But here was Dr. Ben Lim, the co-chair of the department, a respected and accomplished faculty member saying, “My main goal in life is to be a good enough father. A good enough husband. A good enough friend. A good enough therapist.”
Did I push back? Oh, you better believe it! Maybe you feel the same way when you hear the words “good enough.” But here is what I’m learning: living a “good enough” life is way better than trying to live a perfect life.
The problem with aiming for perfect is that our focus becomes so small and concentrated, that the rest of life gets blurry.
As we intensely concentrate on the thing we are trying to perfect, our view of life and its possibilities becomes very narrow. Before we realize it, we are missing out on the parts of life that are outside the focus of our perfection project.
When I open myself up to possibilities beyond perfection, my view gets wide. Expansive. Breathtaking. Panoramic. My life grows larger and my heart and world expand. When I let go of trying to be perfect, and embrace the idea of being good enough – at whatever is in my life today – I suddenly see all sorts of possibilities that were outside of my focus before.
Another problem with aiming for perfect might be even more obvious. It’s just not possible. As hard as I tried to be the perfect wife and mother, I fell short. A lot. Being good enough in my relationships means I’m doing my best to love others well while giving myself permission to make mistakes. Good enough takes the pressure off of everyone – me and those I love – because we get to live with humility and acceptance for who we really are, not who we want others to believe we are.
Aiming for perfection sets us up for a life of pretending. Good enough is the doorway to freedom.
Good enough means putting away any kind of measuring or comparing. Acknowledging that we have been trying to live up to some sort of imaginary perfection meter, an audience that doesn’t exist. It means putting relationships before outcomes and valuing the people in our lives more than the pretty pictures we are tempted to share so freely. Good enough means being realistic and honest about what’s possible and what’s true.
But here is the reason that most compels me to believe that “good” is better than “perfect.” When God Himself created the earth and everything in it –the thunderous oceans and expansive sky, the moon and the sun, the multitude of plants and animals, and man and woman in His own image – surely, as He looked at all He had made, the word, “perfect” would have been a fitting response. But God didn’t call His creation “perfect.” He called it “good.”
At the end of each day, God took time to appreciate and enjoy His good work. And He set out the next day to create again. Because the work He had completed the day before was good enough.
Could this be a model for us? A way to live in more freedom as we create and work and love in ways that we can call good at the end of each day? What if we went to bed every night thinking to ourselves, “Today was a good day. I was a good enough spouse. A good enough parent. And a good enough friend. Today, in all my imperfections, I showed up and gave myself to others. And my imperfect self was enough.” Of course, we will make mistakes. But when we are no longer aiming for perfection, we might find that our lives are richer because they are overflowing with good.
A good enough life is better than perfect, because perfect doesn’t exist. When we aim for perfect, we shrink our lives down to less than the one God has designed us for. Perfect doesn’t allow us to reveal our true hearts to others. It traps us inside routines and time-consuming activities that leave no room for the abundant life God wants for us.
But a good enough life opens us up to all kinds of possibilities. Good enough is the door to freedom.
What kinds of feelings or memories come up for you when you think of trying to be perfect? Are you ready to start living a “good enough” life?