Why settling for good enough is the best thing you can do

good enough

"So we have to be patient with ourselves. Over and over again we think we need to be somewhere else, and we must find the truth right here, right now; we must find our joy here, now. How seductive it is, the thought of tomorrow. We must find our understanding here. We must find it here; it is always here; this is where the grass is green." - John Tarrant

My partner, Matt, ran a course over the winter to teach people basic mechanical skills by rebuilding a motorbike. They named the finished result "Good Enough," and it was recently featured in a local bike show, with all its quirks and flaws. I love this so much.

I had a rough day at work last week and wanted to treat myself to a night of enjoyment. After dinner, I had an hour before heading out to see a play and I decided to work on a drawing that's been taking weeks to finish. I enjoyed that hour tremendously, and was even happy with the results, but later that night I started to berate myself for only finding an hour to draw this whole week, and for only finishing a two-inch square in that time. I started to resent my job and my other responsibilities and wished that I could just spend the whole day making art.

But then I remembered that life doesn't work that way. That—having all the time and energy I want to make art—is a fantasy that even winning the lottery won't making come true. There will always be days when I have nothing to say, when drawing feels tortuous, or when mundane things like earning money, doing laundry and scrubbing floors will have to take precedence. There will be days when the only creative act I make all day is to snap a quick photo on my lunch break.

The best we can do-the only thing we can do-is to be happy with art, with a creative practice, and with a life, that is good enough.

This doesn't mean we shouldn't strive or reach. It doesn't mean we shouldn't push our boundaries, make bold moves, or shoot for the stars. It means that amidst the striving and reaching and pushing, we also need to find a way to accept things as they are right now.

I am so tired of feeling stressed and anxious because I think my life should be different. It's exhausting. I'm reading Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach and in it she asks a truly radical question: “What would it be like if I could accept life—accept this moment—exactly as it is?”

Because perfectionism doesn't just apply to our art, it can also apply to how we live our days. Don't have an entire day to spend making something? Then it's easy to feel that it's not worth even starting. But we must choose to be happy when we spend an hour or even 10 minutes on something we love. We must choose to appreciate the process, even when it feels frustrating and we don't think we have anything to show for it. We must choose to make things with, as Elizabeth Gilbert says, "a glad and determined heart" and to just keep doing our best day after day, hour after hour.

Our best is all we have, really.

With every creative act we take, there comes a point where we have to decide that it's good enough. Sometimes that point feels transcendent and blissful and we're in awe of what we made. And other times it feels shoddy and ramshackle and a little bit embarrassing. And both of those are okay.

I listened to a podcast yesterday about a woman who started acting when she was four and stayed in the career until her twenties when she finally accepted that it wasn't what she wanted to spend her life doing. After leaving Hollywood, she had to decide what "success" looked like for her now that she had turned her back on the typical trappings of success, none of which had been satisfying anyway. She recommended keeping a list of things that light you up throughout your days: walking your dog, joking with your husband, watching the light change on your plants. When you have enough of those moments, that means that you're a success. And no one else can decide that for you.

“It starts by forgetting about perfect. We don’t have time for perfect. In any event, perfection is unachievable: It’s a myth and a trap and a hamster wheel that will run you to death. The writer Rebecca Solnit puts it well: “So many of us believe in perfection, which ruins everything else, because the perfect is not only the enemy of the good; it’s also the enemy of the realistic, the possible, and the fun... The most evil trick about perfectionism, though, is that it disguises itself as a virtue.” Elizabeth Gilbert

While it's good to want the best for our lives, when we set our expectations so high, we can't help but feel disappointed, discouraged and not good enough. Most of us, in fact, rarely feel good enough, never mind great. I'm starting to learn that good enough is a prerequisite for great. If we can't learn to love where we are now, we'll never develop the resources to grow and do better. And we wouldn't know how to appreciate it even when we did.

I don't think that good enough is static, or that it prevents us from meeting our potential. I think that finding that state of good enough is the best possible thing we can do to feel at home and at peace in the world.

“Imperfection is not our personal problem - it is a natural part of existing.”― Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha

Right now? I'm stuck at my day job, facing a day of filing. It's raining so I didn't get to ride my motorbike or my bicycle to work today. This blog post is a week late, and probably not my best work. But I'm choosing to enjoy the rain, taking breaks to look out the window now and then. I'm taking comfort from being dry, with a cup of hot decaf earl grey tea. I have a long list of podcasts to listen to while I work on the filing. And this blog post? It's finished, which is better than last week.

All of it is okay. All of it is good enough and that feels just right.

“Nothing is wrong—whatever is happening is just “real life.”― Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha

Have you made your peace with good enough? What can you do today to let go of a need for perfection and settle into the beauty of good enough?

P.S. Need some help letting go of perfectionism? Come to Art Camp for adults! It's art for art's sake, with no rules and no way to do it wrong. There are two nights left - July 12th (Collage Attack!) and July 26th (Print-tastic!). More information and registration here