A few years ago, a therapist told me I might want to consider changing my standards to “good enough” to know when to stop and say that’s “good enough.” I resisted this advice because I didn’t understand it at the time. I thought “good enough” was a cop-out. I thought it was a resignation of sorts to get something done, accept its limitations, and move on.
The call to “good enough” stayed with me. It kept coming back up in my mind, and I finally surrendered to its possibility and let the notion of “good enough” expand within me. Now, I use “good enough” as my go-to standard, but I’ve changed how I feel about the term. I’ve learned to embrace a new definition of good enough.
As I thought about the meaning of good enough, I kept thinking back to a conversation I had with an editor when I worked as a freelance writer for a local paper. She said to me, “There’s no such thing as a perfect publication; they all have errors, things that could be better, things left unsaid.” At the time, I didn’t fully understand what she meant either, but her advice comforted me. I no longer sought perfection in my writing. And, as a result, I frequently spot typos, extra spaces, incomplete thoughts, logical fallacies, and other errors in published works. Nothing is perfect.
For years, I sought some abstract, unattainable idea of “perfection.” The need for perfection meant that I thought I wasn’t “good enough,” that I lacked something because my attempts weren’t perfect. Now, I realize how this line of thinking limited me and my opportunities. I wouldn’t apply for jobs I really wanted, ones that really interested me, because I didn’t have the perfect resume, the perfect background, the perfect set of qualifications.
As a writer, I will go back and reread things I wrote in the past and cringe. I will say to myself, “Well, that could have been better. I should have done that differently. Why did I ramble on so long?” It’s an unfair comparison. I’m not the same person now, rereading it, that I was when I initially put down my thoughts. I’ve grown, changed, and enhanced my craft, though admittedly, I haven’t perfected it. I’m not sure I’ll ever perfect my craft, and I don’t want to perfect it.
I want to keep learning, getting better, growing, advancing, and evolving my craft. I can’t do any of those things if I’ve already achieved perfection.
For me, the idea of good enough is now tied to the fourth agreement in Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements: “Always do your best.” The key word here is “your.” Your best, not someone else’s best. I’ve also taken this to mean “your” best right now, not your future self’s best.
I think back to that comment from the editor, and now I understand it. I agree there’s no such thing as perfect copy or a perfect publication, or in the case of my professional work, there’s not a perfect website, landing page, e-mail, whitepaper, social media post, etc. However, that doesn’t mean I lower my standards or stop trying to do my best each and every time. It doesn’t mean I’m accepting defeat, or reducing my efforts. I don’t template or phone in my efforts. I don’t wash my hands of my responsibility to do my best, to think things through, and look at all the angles.
The most important thing I’ve learned in my career is recognizing the difference between good enough, perfect, and being thrown together to get it done.
Good enough is now my standard, and it means I’ve done my best, thought things through, looked at the big picture, weighed what’s missing, what’s not needed, and most importantly, evaluated why I’m doing what I’m doing. If I can write with a specific purpose, whether it’s to inform, inspire, educate, or get someone to click on some link, then I can begin to approach the standard of “good enough.” Good enough means I’ve done my best with the information, knowledge, and resources that I have now, not in some flawless future universe.
I’ve discovered that none of the projects that I work on will ever be perfect. In an ideal world, I’d understand my client’s products and services thoroughly, including how they’re engineered, the raw materials used to create them, what they can do in every scenario, and so on. I’d have all the information I need, and there’d be a professional image or illustration to accompany my words. In an ideal scenario, I’d know exactly who I was writing for, including their names, their background, their desires, their fears, their motivations, their whole psycho demographics, how much budget they have, what they already know, what they don’t know, what they’re working on, where they’re headed, whether they like their job, what they want to do differently, what they want to change, and even what they had for lunch. Instead, what I have to work with is assumptions, personas, and bits of data, which will never tell the complete and perfect story.
I figure I have two choices; I can drive myself crazy wishing things were different, that my clients knew more than they know about their customers, that their products were infallible and utterly unique, and their values were perfectly aligned with mine at all times. Or, I can do the very best with the information I have, arranging it carefully, presenting it thoughtfully, and making sure it serves its purpose. This may mean I have to push for greater understanding at times, but it doesn’t mean I’ll know all the answers to all the possible questions the way I desire it. And it doesn’t mean that what I want to do with the copy is what’s best for the project. It’s not about my agenda, it’s about what’s best for the project and its audience.
Good enough is a stopping point.
Good enough means I’ve reached a standard that says, given everything I know and all the assets and resources available, I’ve done my best to achieve what’s needed right now, at this moment. Good enough is a stopping point. It’s a standard that says I’ve done my best with what I have, I’ve pushed this effort as far as I can, and my effort does what I need it to do. It may not be ideal, perfect, of everything I wished for, yet, it’s good enough, and that’s pretty darn good. Maybe next time around, my good enough will be even better because I’ll be better for having done my best.
In short, “good” means this is my best effort right now based on all my understanding, knowledge, and resources. “Enough” means I can stop wanting more and know that it’s finished; it’s enough information to do what it needs to do, which isn’t everything. Good enough means I can get it done, and it can do what it needs to do, even if I wish it could do more. A standard of good enough is “good” plus “enough,” and knowing when I’ve reached both sides of that equation means I’ve done my job and done it well.