by Ben Chalwin
“If it’s good enough for you, it’s good enough for me.”
Dodgy – Good Enough
A chipped mug, a book with bent up pages and a seized rear windscreen wiper – all minor sources of irritation. In reality, these imperfections don’t have that much of a negative impact on how these things actually function. The mug still works for drinking tea (I am proving this as I type), the book can still be read and the windscreen wiper … well, this may eventually need to be fixed, but hasn’t proved to be too problematic for the last few months. In the meantime, the car still drives and it is no different than the days before rear windscreen wipers existed!
All of these are good enough without being perfect. In mindfulness speak, they are comparatively easy to let go of and to accept. I’m not sitting here striving for the perfect mug, book and wiper. If only the rest of life was as simple.
While we may not wish to label ourselves as perfectionist (however we define this), many of us do try to be the best we can in any given situation. I want to be the best parent, partner, friend, colleague, etc that I can be, but often don’t meet what I’m aiming for. My children are very fond of pointing out when I’m not fully embodying the pinnacle of a perfect mindful parent. ‘That’s not being mindful!’ they say as I lose my cool over the pile of washing they’ve left.
Being conscientious, having high standards for ourselves and working hard have real value, but the way we relate to them can be more difficult for us. As Amanda Ruggeri writes in a BBC blog post entitled ‘The dangerous downsides of perfectionism’:
Take the student who works hard and gets a poor mark. If she tells herself: “I’m disappointed, but it’s okay; I’m still a good person overall,” that’s healthy. If the message is: “I’m a failure. I’m not good enough,” that’s perfectionism.
Within education we can seem faced with an endless to do list that will expand to fill whatever time we have available, combined with a feeling of not doing ‘enough’ or constantly comparing ourselves with other colleagues (who have magically already finished all of their planning, marking, etc.). As teachers, and in life in general, we all make mistakes and all have things that didn’t quite go as well as wanted. We can aim for lessons that inspire or engender a love of learning, that meet the needs of all learners … but, sometimes this isn’t going to happen – possibly due to factors that we have little control over (IT failure, wet break, high winds, a full moon …).
Can we be good enough?
“This isn’t about becoming complacent or being happy with mediocrity,” writes Adrian Bethune, “The good-enough, satisfied teacher aims to do their best but is wise enough not to aim for perfection … Being good enough and satisfied means stripping away layers of unnecessary stresses and pressures that get in the way of the innate pleasure and purpose of teaching.” – Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom
Mindfulness is an ongoing process and a practice, rather than something that can be ‘perfected.’ Time spent practicing mindfulness can help to develop attitudes that will hopefully serve us well in the rest of our lives and enable us to show compassion towards ourselves and others. As a simple step towards acceptance and non-judging, if you catch yourself being critical towards yourself or chewing over the same unhelpful thoughts or emotions, try adding ‘and that’s okay’:
I’ve just snarled at my children for leaving dirty washing in their room even though the washing machine has just gone on … and that’s okay.
I have decided to go to the cinema with my friends and not mark every last book from today … and that’s okay.
I have written a blog post and my wife has accused me of not entirely embodying what I’ve written … and that’s okay.
Being good enough … that’s okay.