When I was in high school, my AP English class always had one or two projects going on at once. I kept finding myself thinking, “I’ll be able to do X when I get this project done,” only to get a new assignment before the current one is due. It eventually dawned on me that it was never going to end. There would always be another obligation. If there were X’s I wanted to do, I’d have to find a way to do them in spite of other obligations, because they weren’t ever going to go away. This was a struggle for me, because I felt obligated to “do my best” on my school work, or any other obligations. It occurred to me that perhaps I had to refine my understanding of what “doing my best” actually means. Maybe it doesn’t mean doing what I could do if I had unlimited time and no distractions. Maybe it means doing what I can while keeping up with my other obligations, my own needs, and maybe even my personal life.
This redefinition helped me get through college sanely. If I felt the need to take a walk, or wanted to call a friend or answer a letter, or draw or write something, I would do those things first, then do my homework. If I did my homework first, there would never be time for anything else. I wasn’t so much procrastinating, as keeping my priorities straight. Not shirking obligations, but not letting them completely dominate me either.
This approach to schoolwork was, I suppose, my first attempt to fight my perfectionism with a “good enough” philosophy. It’s logical to expand the approach to other kinds of work, like my music business…
Is there “good enough” for me as a musician? I’ve chosen an instrument that is difficult to get perfectly in tune, especially if you’re trying to tune quickly. Sometimes I hit wrong notes, even in performance. There’s also questions of expression, dynamics, rhythm, etc. Because of budget and time constraints, I’ve used editing and other studio techniques to make my recordings better than they would be if I recorded “live.” I think I’ve made good progress on developing a reasonable “good enough” standard for my music work. I recognize that I’ll always have room to improve, and that it’s silly to wait to record or perform or teach until I’ve reached some goal. I practice a lot, but I’m not obsessive about it (except sometimes when recording, or when a performance is especially important to me). So now I am overwhelmed less often by the hugeness of what I need to do to grow as a musician; it usually hits me hardest in January, when I have a break from the holiday season and many gigless weeks to pursue my own musical goals.
It’s more difficult to try to understand “good enough” for relational obligations…
Is there “good enough” for me as a daughter, a friend, a wife, a Christian, a neighbor? I’m obligated to love my neighbor as myself. I’m supposed to honor my parents. These obligations are frighteningly huge to me. I don’t see how I can balance all the people I have to love; love can’t be divided and parceled out like time for work can. Somehow I’ve gotten the idea that “love your neighbor” combined with the Golden Rule means that I need to be the perfect ideal intimate friend and helper of everyone, as if everyone is as insatiable as I am. I can rarely think about world hunger or peace or even poverty in our own nation, because it’s too overwhelmingly huge. (And maybe Jesus really meant it when he told the rich young ruler to sell all he had and give it to the poor; sometimes the sense of that obligation terrifies me.) What I can (barely) handle is trying to keep the husband a priority, trying to write good letters to the child we sponsor through Compassion Int’l, and being as good a friend as I can be to the few friends I have, although I fail miserably at loving even these few people. Everyone else — hungry, poor, homeless, war-torn, or just sitting next to me in church — sort of scares me to death.
It’s funny; people I meet through my business scare me a little less. I like talking to people who come up to me when I’m playing at the Farmers Market. I like when someone emails me to tell me they liked the CD they recently ordered. I like getting hired for gigs. Maybe because I know how temporary all these “relationships” are. The Farmers Market people will move on to buy vegetables and then go home. The gig will happen and be over. If the CD purchaser emails me again — I start to get scared again.
Maybe one reason I have so few friends is that I’m so terrified of my obligation to them, which I think usually comes across as selfishness.