My name is Oriah, and I am a recovering perfectionist. This is not a joke. Perfectionism can be as much of an addiction as anything else, and like any other addiction it robs life of joy and wholeness. One of the concepts that the recovering perfectionist needs and resists is the idea of “good enough.”
I have a history with the phrase “good enough.” As a child my mother responded negatively when my brother or I would claim that some job around the house or a project for school was “good enough.” She called it a “slap-happy attitude,” clearly a euphemism for laziness, moral turpitude and not living up to standards held by decent people.
I first encountered the phrase “good enough” in the context of my studies in child psychology. British physician and psychotherapist D.W. Winnicott was the first to write about the “good enough parent.” As society began to understand the negative effects of child abuse and neglect, Winnicott recognized that it was neither helpful nor realistic to set up perfectionist ideals that no parent could achieve. He wanted to reassure loving parents that they did not have to be enlightened masters or superhuman beings to offer a child the “good enough” environment and relationship needed to foster healthy mental and emotional development.
In the The Fountain of Age by Betty Friedan, an eighty-five year old woman is asked about her health. She replies that her health is “good enough.” Her health- although not without its challenges- still allows her to appreciate life, enjoy learning and participate in the world.
Reading her response, I wondered about the aspects of my life where I still allow a perfectionist ideal (sometimes unconsciously and almost always secretively) to rob me of life’s joy. Having been limited at times by a chronic illness it’s hard not to posit some kind of ideal state of health as desirable. This gets more difficult with aging, and it dawns on me that no matter how well I care for myself, how well I eat, how deeply I rest, how religiously I exercise, meditate, and do yoga, my physical abilities will eventually decline. But the truth is, even with aging and bouts of CFS/ME my health is good enough for enjoying and participating in life. Likewise, my mental faculties are good enough for learning about the things that interest me, and my emotional self-knowledge, while never complete, is always deepening and expanding my capacity to give and receive love. So too my spiritual practice, which is never going to be consistently full of conscious awareness of every level of reality in every moment, is good enough to cultivate the faith and courage I need to live and love well.
I feel the impulse to end this blog with a caveat that reminds us that the concept of “good enough” does not mean it’s okay to be careless or sloppy or lazy or undiscerning. . . . Hear how my perfectionist is mounting a rearguard action, terrified that everything will fall apart if certain standards are not adhered to? That’s okay. It’s good enough just to be aware of the perfectionist’s fear, just to take a breath and remember the wholeness. It’s good enough not to perfectly dismantle my inner perfectionist.
Oriah (c) 2012 www.oriahsinvitation.blogspot.com
About Oriah Mountain Dreamer:
Oriah is the author of the international best-selling books: The Invitation, and The Dance, and The Call (published by HarperONE, translated into eighteen languages.) Her much loved poem “The Invitation” has been shared around the world. Trained in a shamanic tradition, her medicine name Mountain Dreamer means one who likes to find and push the edge. Using story, poetry and shamanic ceremony Oriah’s deeply personal writing and her work as a group facilitator and mentor explore how to follow the thread of our heart’s longing into a life where we can choose joy without denying the challenges of a human life. www.oriah.org www.oriahsinvitation.blogspot.com https://www.facebook.com/Oriah.Mountain.Dreamer?sk=wall