Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Michael Phelps and the GEP

Clearly, the Olympic games, which I have been watching every night this week, demonstrate the antithesis to the Good Enough Principle. “Good Enough” is not gold. But the games also prove the wisdom of the GEP—at least for those of us who aren’t Olympians.

We’ve heard that all Phelps has time to do is sleep, eat, swim, repeat. We hear other Olympians talk about how they’ve been miserable but have tried to become more balanced to escape the misery that came, presumably, from a life narrowly focused on an adrenaline-producing, competitive life.

I have tremendous admiration for Olympians. Michael Phelps rocks. Misty May-Treanor blows me away. I remember watching Michael Johnson run in Atlanta, and his speed and beauty actually made me weep. It was then that I realized how amazing it was for a human being to explore what it meant to do his or her very best. Really, to be honest, few of us really do our very best. Or maybe it’s just me that doesn’t. Even though I have always valued high grades and accolades, I have almost always known that I could do more—that I could be or do better—regardless of whether I was writing a paper or parenting my kids. I’ve come close with a few things—like when I practiced for rifle-squad tryouts in high school, or when I gave birth to my children without pain meds—but really, with most things I have this niggling awareness that I could do, should do, more.

But the thing that the Olympics reiterate for me is that if we are to do (or be) our very, absolute best at something, we often don’t have time to do much else since the resources are all tied up in one venture. And what is our best? Do we ever get there? Many of the Olympic atheletes say that they always feel as if they could be doing better. Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor say that they are never satisfied with their performance, and they’ve won 104 matches in a row! Michael Phleps is always trying to be faster in the pool. Do any of us ever feel as if we have done enough?

A few nights ago, my kids were jumping around the living room, imitating (sort of) the gymnasts on TV, just as I did in 1976 when Nadia was my hero. After about 30 minutes of leaping off the couch and doing somersaults, my five-year-old son climbed into my lap and said, “I’m worn out. I don’t think I want to be in the Olympics, Mommy. It seems too hard.”

I am totally with him on that. I can’t imagine all of the parts of my life I would have to trade to be the best in the world at something. Olympians are amazing, and they have my honor and awe. But I’m a dabbler. I like a little of this and a little of that for a full life. Right now, I’d like a little port and chocolate while I watch Michael Phelps do what most of us never will. And that’s good enough.

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