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What Is Good Enough by Dr. Michele Fleming

Everyone has different reactions to the concept of “good enough”. Some laugh, some recoil, some are curious.  Good enough can feel like a cop-out, a license for mediocrity, or a recipe for disaster.   For most of us, good enough doesn’t compute, because we live in two gears:  it’s either “perfect” or a total “failure.” But, in reality, good enough has more to do with rational choices and the exercise of healthy boundaries than impulsive behavior driven by perfectionism.

            The “good enough” mother was a concept introduced in 1954 by Dr. Donald Winnicott.  He decided to challenge the Freudian tendency of blame-shifting the parents for every imaginable problem.  Parents always feel that pressure, and the guilt.  Winnicott is the reason I survived motherhood with twins.  I’ve been fascinated ever since.

            So, what is “good enough”? Good enough is not mediocrity.  Good enough is getting the job done now and striving to make it better, only if needed.  How do you know if it’s good enough?  Try this litmus test:  Are there sufficient benefits? Is there an absence of critical problems?  In the present situation, given the limited nature of our personal, performance, and people resources, would the impact of striving towards further improvement be more harmful than helpful?

            While I realize that our collective fantasy of being Best-Boss-Ever, Always-On-Employee, Perfect Friend, “You Complete Me” Spouse, SuperMom, SuperDad, and Right-Up-There-on-the-Cross-with-Jesus Christian is much more appealing than considering ourselves to be good enough, the limitations of 24 hours in a day and the need to have some semblance of a personal life demands that we consider a different viewpoint.  Good enough takes the real world into account– the one God designed us to live in– by accepting the gap between our ideal self and the one we are actually capable of being.  Good enough is the belief that we can improve while doing, we can learn while failing, we can cope in the midst of complexity, and we can adjust to our fallen human condition. 

            And by way of walking the walk, after writing, reviewing, and rewriting this article, I’ve given myself permission to believe that you will find it good enough. 

Want to learn more about how to live in the tension of the gap between the ideal and the real?  You can contact me at www.drmichelefleming.com or at michele.fleming@townsendleadership.com

References: 

To be good enough, Canadian Family Physician (2009), March; 55(3): 239–240.

Winnicott DW. Transitional objects and transitional phenomena; a study of the first not-me possession. Int J Psychoanal. 1953;34(2):89–97. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

2 Comments

  1. Richard Mullis on November 26, 2019 at 11:42 pm

    You rock Michele.!!!

  2. Ann Jung on November 27, 2019 at 6:36 am

    Wow, thanks! Mother of twins, hats off to you! I’ve never heard of this concept before but it makes sense. I agree that we tend to think of things in the all or nothing mindset. It was refreshing and freeing. It resonated with me because I think God doesn’t condemn us in that gap between our ideal and in-progress self.
    I think though I wouldn’t say “the gap between our ideal self and the one we are actually capable of being” but rather I think it’s ‘our ideal self and the one we are currently experiencing” or something to the effect that we are on journey rather than “that’s it.” I feel we limit our transformation too quickly because it’s easier not to seek change. Does that make sense? Or is my thinking still too ’all or nothing?’
    Nevertheless, I appreciate your article and want to sit with it for awhile. Thanks again!

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