Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Line Between "Good Enough" and "Bad"

As I discussed this blog with my husband, he pointed out that in rejecting perfectionism and the supermom phenomena that one certainly should not hope to be "bad." I think he recognizes that promoting the GEP is not the same thing as promoting poor quality. But he does have point.

Trying to be good enough is tricky because both terms--"good" and "enough"--are abstract. They exist on a spectrum and are subject to different preferences. For example, what is a good mom? What is a good wife? What is a good student? What is a good writer? What is a good housekeeper? Many of us would have different answers to these questions, especially the first two, which might be the most important.

Then, we throw "enough" into the mix. Where is the line between good enough and NOT good enough? How clean must the house be to be clean enough? Cleaner than mine, I'm sure.

The problem is that many of us never feel as if we get over the good enough bar. Is that because we're truly not good enough? Or is that because other people have confused being good enough with being perfect?

Today is a case in point. The kids are with grandparents (which is easy for me to feel guilty about). I have many things I need to do today. I need to clean the house and do laundry. I need to prepare for the big birthday party this weekend. I need to work on my dissertation research. I need to pay bills. I need to walk the dog. And I need to do several other things I'm forgetting right now.

But how much of each one should I do in order for each to be good enough? Already, I know that the birthday party I'm hosting will not be nearly as cute or thematic as other birthday parties. It is essentially a big playdate with a bounce house and pizza. It will be amazing if I'm able to put together gift bags that must be given (why?) to all of the guests. When I do, they won't match the plates (which I need to buy), napkins (those, too), or the pinata (there's another errand to run). Will the party be good enough? And what does the party say about what kind of mom I am and how good of a mom I am? I'm sure it says something, especially if my party planning is not as good as the party planning of other moms.

Not as good. Therefore bad? The line is blurry.

Of course these questions get even more difficult when we're discussing something really substantial, but sometimes it's things like a birthday party that put us on display with other parents, leading us to feel stressed as we trying to impress them as well as our children.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a kid's birthday party that was very well planned. There was great food, a magician, games, and a pinata. But when it was time to open gifts, the dad said, "Is anyone writing down the gifts and who they're from?" The mom said, "No, it doesn't matter because I know I'm not going to send thank you notes anyway."

My southern relatives might be appalled, but I thought it was one of the most liberating admissions I'd heard in a long time.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Good Enough Principle and the Good Enough Woman: First Post

I've recently come across a term that seems to be used in the tech field: the Principle of Good Enough (or the Good Enough Principle). On the Harvard Business Publishing Web Site, Scott D. Anthony references the principle, saying the following about the employment of the GEP in technical innovation:

"In a perfect world, companies would introduce pitch-perfect products that were easy to use and affordable. The reality is that there often is a tradeoff between basic performance, ease of use, and price.

"Established companies typically favor sacrificing ease of use and price in the name of performance. They fear the very term 'good enough,' because they think sacrificing raw performance will render their products inferior.

"Remember, though, that quality is relative. It is always worth asking: What would happen if you intentionally lowered raw performance in the name of simplicity, convenience, accessibility, or affordability? What new markets could you serve? What new consumption could you enable?

"Almost always, embracing “good enough” can open the door to new opportunities."

The italics are mine, and I've added the emphasis because I'm struck by how these lines (and all of them, really) apply to moms (and teachers, and students, and poets, and musicians, dads, etc.).

We have always been taught, "Do your best." "If it's worth doing, then it's worth doing well." But I once had a teacher who suggesting that "anything worth doing is worth doing badly." Some people would agree with him, especially when it come to things like fishing, golfing, and playing guitar. (But not parenting. We wouldn't want to do that badly.) But must we always try to be perfect?

We certainly want some people to be perfect (brain surgeons and bomb diffusers come to mind), but many of us work in areas that aren't so cut and dry (or so life and death). In that spirit, I am rejecting perfectionism, as a general principle, especially as it has given birth to the recent supermom movement, and I will start blogging to explain and give voice to this rejection and my support for the Good Enough Principle. More to come.