The Curse of Perfectionism – and the cure of Good Enough

by Karen Amos

In my line of work, I have the privilege of meeting many people from all walks of life, albeit virtually nowadays.  In doing so, it’s easy to pick up themes.  Here’s one – January was tough.

The end of January is always a difficult time.  It’s towards the end of the winter when we get the fatigue. When the long nights go on forever and we’re starved of sunlight and to compound it all, we’ve been locked in.

I work with schools and I know many parents of school-aged children.  There have been numerous fractious exchanges between these two groups, which is almost inevitable when you consider the pressure everyone is under.  And that’s the key to it – it’s about the pressure.  When we feel under pressure, we naturally go into self-preservation mode.

There has been huge pressure on teachers, who are not only dealing with uncertainty, but also trying to juggle online and face-to-face learning with concerns and follow-ups of children in their care, not to mention the politics, with a large and small ‘P’.

In the meantime, parents have suddenly had the pressure of trying to hold down jobs whilst working from home and managing the almost impossible expectations of home-schooling.

I’ve posted about the philosophy of Stoicism since the new year.  Here’s the thing – everyone just wants to do a good job.  Sometimes though, we have to accept that ‘least worst’ is the best on offer.  In doing so, we have to simply accept what is.  That’s not defeatist by any stretch – it’s pragmatic and allows you to give yourself permission to just do what’s ‘Good Enough’.  By good enough, I mean good enough in the context of the circumstances in which you find yourself.

The concept of ‘Good Enough’ has its roots in child development and parenting and latterly in social work, then also in software and systems design.  But there’s a message for all of us in there…

‘Perfection is the enemy of action.’

Magnifying shortcomings and failures, just leads to disappointment and grows, resulting in guilt, anger and blaming.  ‘This isn’t right, ergo someone must be at fault.’

Whilst being Good Enough Parents to our children, how about being Good Enough Parents to ourselves?  Let’s set out reasonable expectations in advance and not expect more of ourselves than we would of others – or indeed, not expecting more of others than is reasonable.

Here are some helpful coaching questions to take a stoical, ‘Good Enough’ approach to life:

  • What could I achieve today in order to think, ‘Yes, that was good enough’?
  • What would I tell my friend was good enough if they were in my position?
  • What are the consequences if I do this to a good enough, rather than perfect standard?
    • What will I gain?
    • What will this cost me?
  • What’s the most important thing to achieve today?

Above all, Good Enough is about being kind – to yourself and others.  After all, there are always plenty of challenges in life, so why make things any harder?

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Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports under-pressure business owners and managers to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a practical, down-to-earth approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and working relationships.