In the public sector, we have a saying that goes something like this: “Good enough for government work!”. It implies that the government doesn’t expect perfection, so “good enough” is often all you’ll need to put into an assignment.
This article is a part of the Kill It! series of articles aimed at streamlining your life into a well-oiled machine.
Sadly, it also implies that “good enough” is somehow inferior. After all, the saying isn’t “Give it your all and forget the rest”. We’re talking about calling it good somewhere before you reach the unattainable level of “perfect”.
The truth is perfection is impossible to achieve. Flat out impossible. We’re humans, and humans make mistakes. With everything we do, there’s always something that we could have done differently. Done better. Quicker.
You, my friend, are not perfect. I’m not either. That’s life.
In fact, this study suggests that those who constantly seek perfection are more likely to experience both emotional as well as physical problems.
Umm, no thanks.
My life of good enough
As far back as I can remember, I lived the “good enough” life to a T. Perhaps I was born a natural economist. I never put forth an ounce of additional effort when I believed that I had already squeaked out as much as I could.
It’s like when you’re at the bottom of a can of soda. You drink until no more comes out even though we all realize there’s just a bit still left. You stop with the soda stops. It’s good enough.
In school, I strived to keep my grades slightly above average. More Bs than Cs. An occasional A here and there. I didn’t strive for straight As because I didn’t feel they were necessary. I did my best to plant myself in that well-populated area slightly above the fold, then called it good.
I always used a similar philosophy when at work. Each assignment I completed to the very best of my ability. I did the work – sometimes went above and beyond, but I knew when I had already squeezed out as much juiciness as I could from the task. At that point, I was done.
Hell, even with early retirement, I chose to utilize a good enough philosophy. We retired with close to – but slightly less than – a million dollars in the bank, which is far less than most people believe that we need for early retirement in our mid-30s. But, we did it anyway. We were close enough. It just wasn’t worth another year working a job that I didn’t enjoy.
Damn, look at all this “good enough”-ness. I’ve never done anything perfectly, and probably never will.
But still, I retired from full-time work at the age of 35, and I never looked back. I called it good – to include my career – without trying to eek out another year. Another hundred thousand. Another year working a job I didn’t enjoy. We achieved our good enough number, then bailed.
This isn’t about half-assing your life
Good enough is not the same as half-assing it. Being irresponsible or intentionally lazy with your school, work or life, in general, will never be the answer to your prayers. It won’t let you escape the wretched grasp of corporate America and live a life of pure freedom.
In fact, it’s precisely the opposite.
When you’re lazy, you leave money on the table. You miss promotions at work that could send your progress toward your goals into overdrive. When people cannot depend on you, you create a scenario that keeps you on the outside. An outlier, but not in the positive sense.
Never mistake good enough for not trying your best.
Getting closer to perfection
Former football coach Vince Lombardi once said:
Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence
While perfection is impossible to achieve, there is wisdom in striving for the best that you can be. Incredible wisdom.
Here are several techniques that can help you reach toward perfection and hopefully get a little closer to it. I’ve employed these techniques throughout my life to maximize success with the time I put into my tasks.
Break down tasks – One of the biggest inhibitors to success is the sense of being overwhelmed. When things appear too big to handle, we clam up. We assume that they are too hard or just impossible. But, nine times out of 10, they are achievable. We just gotta approach them the right way.
For example, let’s say you want to lose weight. 100 pounds. To most people, losing 100 pounds probably seems like a monumental task. How could anyone lose 100 pounds? That’s insane!
But, think of it this way. It’s not so insane when you break that goal down into more easily achievable parts. Say, two pounds a week. Or 10 pounds a month. Doesn’t two pounds a week seem like a much more reasonable task than losing the entire 100? This is how I lost 50 pounds several years ago after ballooning up to 260 pounds leading an unhealthy lifestyle.
Focus on your time, not the end result – “Keep your eye on the prize”, right? While I understand the wisdom behind those words, I also believe that it keeps us focused on the mountain that we’re climbing rather than the smaller and more manageable steps that we’re taking to get there.
In the back of our minds, we know that we’re climbing a mountain. Every time we look up, we see that distant peak that looks impossibly far. Way too high for any reasonable human being to reach. In this case, don’t keep your eye on the prize. Keep your head down and focus on those steps. Each step represents progress. Sweet, sweet progress.
Instead of focusing on that mountain peak, pick out much closer milestones. Then, set out to achieve each and every one. That rock about 30 feet away…yeah, that looks like an awesome rock to stop at for a minute. Let’s just get there. Then, it’s the patch of green grass over there. That looks soft and comfy. Let’s go there. Before we know it, we’re halfway up that sucker.
We’re about to conquer that mountain!
Do your best and forget the rest – Regardless of how well you may do something, there will almost always be someone out there who will do it better. Faster. More efficiently. And, that’s okay.
While there is wisdom in doing the best that you can and consistently improving over time, resist (yes, RESIST!) the temptation to compare yourself with others. That’s always a lose-lose proposition. Your life’s goals isn’t about anyone else. The car someone else drives should have no bearing on the car that you choose to drive. That’s their life, not yours.
Just F-ing do it! – You don’t need the “perfect” plan before you begin. If your goal is to lose 100 pounds, get yourself into the gym and just start. Start on the treadmill or on an elliptical. In short order, you’ll build enough confidence to branch out a bit and maybe pick up a dumbbell or two. It all adds up. Progress builds. But, you gotta start. You just gotta start.
Believe me, I didn’t have a clue about working out when I first set foot in a gym. I’d be the guy you’d see reading those little stickers on the machines to figure out how to do the exercise. I selected a very light weight, then pushed through an easy set of 10 reps to get a feel for the exercise. Then, I’d kick it up 10 pounds and try another set. I’d keep doing that until I was comfortable with the challenge. Each time, I had the strength to do just a little bit more.
Progress can only happen after you start. You don’t need a detailed plan. You don’t need it all worked out. You just gotta f-ing do it.
Steve is a 37-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels with the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.