Last spring, a close friend told me I intimidated him. At the time, I was simultaneously generating units for all three of my student teaching courses, competing on the collegiate track scene, and co-leading a student organization—facts which led him to conclude that I was a robot. I was quick to note that I was also surviving on Pop Tarts and actually slept an entire night in my driver’s seat because I was too tired to get out of the car.
But, I’d be lying if I said I don’t know how he felt. This year, in my first teaching job, I share an office with another young male instructor who I have reason to believe is the perfect human being. He speaks Spanish like a native Madrileño, earns universal adoration from students, taught himself Norwegian in a week, and remains one of the most considerate people I’ve ever met. I am so blessed to have him as a co-worker, or describe our relationship as co-anything, but next to him, it’s easy not to feel “good enough.”
I’ve always struggled with this little word pairing: “good enough.” As a viciously type-A person and unyielding perfectionist, I hate the concept. For me, it falls into the same category as the salutation “Take it easy!” (No, I will not take it easy thank you very much. I have already watched three too many Netflix episodes this week and am a few years behind on my burgeoning literary career, so why don’t you just get behind me, Satan!) I simply cannot call something finished, whether I’m re-checking a final exam for the fifth time or strategically placing a seventieth sprinkle on a Seurat-inspired Christmas cookie. I despise “good enough” and instead fashion myself the poster boy for “good enough never is.”
Unfortunately, like most instances of unbridled disdain, this comes with some backlash. For example, meticulously changing PowerPoint fonts is regularly exchanged for sleep and cleaning out the refrigerator devolves into me scraping away congealed condiments with my fingernails. So, after twenty-four years of “never is,” I’m ready to concede that “good enough” has some practical advantages.
But I become concerned when “good enough” is applied beyond these daily practices. Just the other week, I had a friend post to Facebook that all he wanted for his upcoming birthday was “to be good enough.” He didn’t feel smart enough, attractive enough, or talented enough. Immediately, I wanted to ask, “For what?” Good enough for what? When will you really be good enough? When you don your graduation cap? When you slip on a wedding ring? When you have the weight of an Olympic medal pounding on your chest? When does “good” really meet “enough”?
A few weeks of asking myself this has brought me to a new mantra: “Good enough never exists.” When I consider the oft-debated opening pages of the Bible, I fear we get caught up in the wrong words. Genesis 1 becomes a petri dish for arguments on Evolution and evolution and gay rights and gay wrongs and total depravity and predestiny. What we miss seeing is what God sees. Quite literally.
When I flip through the first few gold-fringed, tissue-paper pages of my Bible, what I notice is the simple phrase, “And God saw that it was good.” Now I don’t want puzzle out whether or not God is a perfectionist. There are certainly parts of me that wish he had spent a bit more time on the structural integrity of my shin, but that’s another post. What I do want to dwell on is the word “good.” It’s not blown up to size forty-eight font or appended with sixteen exclamation marks. It’s not the word that we look for on our midterm essays—impressive!, fantastic!, excellent! It’s not a Frosted Flakes-worthy slogan. Yet, it strikes me that the cumulative beauty of all creation can be gathered up into this single word. It implies a wholeness, a completion, a pureness. It also strikes me that this “goodness” is what we must spend our lives living into.
This is both a comforting and overwhelming thought. The comfort is that we’re not called to reach the unattainable standards the world sets for us or we set for ourselves. My life isn’t the pursuit of a waistline or finish time. What’s overwhelming is that this “goodness” is equally unattainable. While we hate feeling that we need to match our sibling’s GPA or replicate the happiness captured in a friend’s Facebook photo album, they’re at least tangible goals. “Goodness” is not. No matter our religious convictions or self-perceptions, we all know we’re broken people in a broken down world. There will always be healthy ways to better ourselves and more good on this earth to do. Good enough never exists.
But before we ponder how to pursue goodness, I think we need to take a moment to see it in ourselves. I see goodness in the way my college comrade makes me laugh daily or patiently aides me in my refrigerator sterilizing, in the way my Facebook friend clears a hurdle so elegantly or writes poetry so fervently, and in the way I hold babies or dance so acrobatically in my kitchen.
We need to recognize that we are fonts of goodness, welling endlessly, and that our goal is never the non-existent good enough, but, instead, simply to overflow.
Gabe Gunnink (’14) lives in Seattle, where he works for a European travel company and gawks at the landscapes and skylines surrounding him. In his free time, he enjoys practicing Portuguese under his breath on city buses, running far enough to justify eating an entire pan of cinnamon rolls, and faithfully implementing Oxford commas.