My son, beware of “good enough,”
It isn’t made of sterling stuff;
It’s something any man can do,
It marks the many from the few,
It has no merit to the eye,
It’s something any man can buy,
It’s name is but a sham and bluff,
For it is never “good enough.”
With “good enough” the shirkers stop
In every factory and shop;
With “good enough” the failures rest
And lose to men who give their best;
With “good enough” the car breaks down
And men fall short of high renown.
My son, remember and be wise,
In “good enough” disaster lies.
With “good enough” have ships been wrecked,
The forward march of armies checked,
Great buildings burned and fortunes lost;
Nor can the world compute the cost
In life and money it has paid
Because at “good enough” men stayed.
Who stops at “good enough” shall find
Success has left him far behind.
There is no “good enough” that’s short
Of what you can do and you ought.
The flaw which may escape the eye
And temporarily get by,
Shall weaken underneath the strain
And wreck the ship or car or train,
For this is true of men and stuff
Only the best is “good enough.”
The gauntlet was thrown squarely at my feet by a friend who knows I can’t resist a challenge. A few weeks ago I penned some thoughts on personal best and she asked me to take a look at the concept of good enough. Specifically, she wanted to know if I thought good enough was ever good enough.
While I hate to waffle, I think it depends. Sometimes the answer is situational. We expect personal best from the doctors who treat us and the lawyers who defend us. The grave or jail cell as alternatives are simply beyond the pale, but a golfer, who dreams of a hole in one, will happily settle for par when the occasion arises. Perhaps the real question is what we are willing to settle for.
Take a look at our transportation systems. Using planes, trains and automobiles we can get from one coast to the other. While aging infrastructure and patchwork maintenance may make the trip difficult, the system works well enough to prevent exploration of innovative changes such as the bullet trains that run through France, China and Japan. Rather than innovate we have settled for a system that is merely good enough.
There is a school of thought that believes that settling makes people happier and more satisfied with life in general. They believe that those who settle for “good enough” alleviate the stress and fatigue associated with the search for the best possible options. This may work well if you rely on the research and experience of others when buying a cell phone or television, but if you take that approach too seriously it may hold you back. It also means you better maintain your relationships with those who do your research.
The distinction between personal best and good enough will be meaningless to those who chose to coast through life. They never challenge themselves to do great things or become an expert at anything. The writer Scott H. Young points out that “stopping at ‘good enough’ is an easy way to ensure you’ll never accomplish anything remarkable. It’s hard to be fulfilled when you approach everything as ‘good enough’.” There are times, however, when good enough is indeed good enough. Worrying about what to wear or what to eat are simple decisions that don’t require a lot of thought. Long term projects are a different story and generally require mastery and exploration of new ways of doing things.
I suspect that all of us have areas in our lives where good enough will suffice, but if you love what you do, you’ll strive for personal best in that area. When I was a student a much respected and fondly remembered counselor pointed out that the difference between an A and a C was about an hours worth of study. He was right. That probably can be extrapolated to all areas of our lives. Good enough and personal best are personal choices we exercise based on our own priorities, and we all know you can’t clap with one hand. Life is about balance and intensity and my take on good enough is not quite as intense as that of Edgar Guest.