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I Hate Good Enough

Sometimes I hate the term "good enough." I hate it because it is used far too frequently as an excuse for laziness and or a half hearted effort. It is what you say when you don't have time to do a job properly and are forced to compensate with doing a good enough job to get by.

It is a habit that I don't want my children to develop. I don't want them to just get by, I want them to excel. I want them to be proud of everything that they do. I want them to go to sleep and feel good about about themselves because they know that they did their best.

I'd like to say that I have never been guilty of using good enough as an excuse. I'd like to say that it is something outside of my personal experience, but that would be untrue. Most of my education was marked by doing work that was good enough. I wasn't always disciplined enough to put in the effort that I was capable of, but I was good enough to produce A's and B's across the board. Very few classes challenged me and few teachers reached out so I was content to stay with good enough.

Part of the problem was that I couldn't see the value in grades. They didn't make sense to me then and still don't now. They aren't really indicative of anything of importance to me. I am not impressed by students who held a 4.0 and I am not turned off by those who had failing grades either.

It is a contradictory position to take, to rail on about how grades are meaningless while complaining about submitting work that is good enough. But life is filled with contradiction and what I am concerned about is teaching my children how to avoid the pitfalls that snared me.

My grandfather OBM used to say that "you can't screw an old head on young shoulders." It is by far one of my favorite sayings and memories. Because what I am trying to do is just that. I am trying to stuff almost 41 years of life experience into heads that haven't had the experiences I have had and can't always see the connections. Cause and effect only goes so far with them.

And it is safe to say that some of what I am trying to teach them about life is related to my own hangups. That doesn't make me any different than any other father. I understand that. And I understand that there are moments when good enough is the best that you can hope for, but that doesn't change my vision of the past, the present or the future.

If you read between the lines of some of these posts you'll see that I am hung up on the road not taken and unfulfilled potential. Sometimes it drives me and sometimes it haunts me. I go to battle and or run from those demons more often than I like to admit.

Sometimes I see that in my son. I look in his eyes and I see what lies beneath the surface. I understand that he is always listening. I understand that he remembers those who did him wrong and that he takes mental notes of what was unfair. I get it, because I do it too.

The guy who asked my girlfriend to sleep with him in 1988 is memorialized in the Jack wants to kick your ass again hall of fame. I rarely think about it, but when I do I always think that it would feel good to kick him in the balls once or twice. Silly isn't it, twenty two years later to have any thoughts like that.

So I don't want that for my son. I want him to be more like his sister, let things go. It is a happier, healthier way of life. Overall I like what I see and what I hear. He is focused at school and he works hard. I want to foster that so that he doesn't slip into good enough.

The dark haired beauty is a different story. Her older brother is her hero. She wants to do everything that he does and is always willing to put the effort in. I suspect that this will continue to manifest itself in school. She drives herself there and works exceptionally hard all with the hopes of catching him.

In the midst of all this is the conundrum of how to push and motivate them to do better than good enough without being a slave driver. Their best efforts don't have to translate into a perfect score. I won't be a taskmaster. I won't be feared, respected yes, but feared no.

It is a crazy thing, this gig called parenting. Every day there are thoughts and feelings to be worked through and with. Every day a push to give more, to take that extra step. Every a day a new opportunity and a new chance to try and do better than good enough.

Habits. That is what so much of this comes down, habits. In the end the final contradiction is that you hope that you do a good enough job of raising your children to make them productive and independent members of society.

Ain't life grand.


Charlie said…
Fine essay. I've replaced "good enough" with "what you can live with." I say that as someone whose life is held together by safety pins and masking tape on most days. So take it with that in mind. But I rarely lose sleep wondering if I'd crossed every T in some ponderous article I'd been editing that week. What I want for my daughter is that she take life in big bites. That she savor its flavor, unhindered by fear and resentment. It took me years to throw away my "if I ever see you again I'm gonna throw you down the stairs" list. But I learned that resentment imprisons ME, not the people on my list. I want my little girl to know that, without taking 40+ years to figure it out. Believe me, I'm no Gandhi. But I'm trying, in my small ways, to fix a few things in myself that are broken. Thanks again for the post. Very thought provoking, and far better than "good enough."
Kelly Miller said…
My most recent grappling with "good enough" is how to teach my children they are just that. Good enough. Well, enough, period. I want them to know they don't have to excel or be famous or be perfect, etc., to be valuable. I need to incorporate your approach to good enough, because the last thing I want them to think is that not trying is okay.
Anonymous said…
Great stuff Jack! As a teacher it is an expression I often hear. I only hope, after reading your piece, that I manage to convey the idea that this answer doesn't satisfy me.
Anonymous said…
Great post - I too want my kids to excel in everything, but it's treading the fine line between encouraging them to be the best they can be and pushing them too hard so they either rebel or feel inadequate.

Just one more thing a parent has to deal with!
Drew Gilbert said…
I've used "good enough" far too often in my lifetime, something I deeply want to remedy before my son is old enough to catch me doing it.

Solid piece!
Jack Steiner said…
Hi Charlie,

"What you can live with" is different to me than "good enough." That seems to hit more of the "I put some effort into this."

I like your wish for your daughter.


We're like circus performers. I don't need my kids to be the best either, but they have to try. As along as they do that I can live with it.


I have been guilty of using it as an excuse and know how easy it is to get sucked in. So with a little luck/effort maybe I can help my kids avoid the trap.


It is easy to do. I have been there.
treppenwitz said…
There... I commented. Restart the shot clock. ;-)

Seriously, I have plenty to say when I'm looking at a blank screen... but when faced with someone else's post I always feel like whatever I have to add is lame.
Jack Steiner said…
but when faced with someone else's post I always feel like whatever I have to add is lame.

But maybe it is not.
great post, jack. i think you're right-- teaching our kids about that amazing, euphoric feeling of giving 110% *is* the rub. & btw, your grandfather's words? priceless and oh-so-very true! thanks.
Jack Steiner said…

I love that you appreciate my grandfather's words. It is just one more way of keeping him around a little bit longer. Thanks.