“Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” the words of my company’s CEO rang in my mind as I justified not baking my pies from scratch, spot washing the morning’s syrup spill from the tablecloth, and putting the pictures that are still waiting to be hung since our summer move back in the closet once again. The CEO was talking about a webcast delivery to 400,000+ people that had experienced a few technical glitches. I was thinking about Thanksgiving the following day. In both cases, the show went on and everything turned out just fine.
Fast forward a few days to the first Sunday of Advent. As we were taking communion at church, my middle son informed me that I should chew my bread 23 times for proper digestion.
“Where’d you hear that, honey?”
“It’s science, Mom.”
I laughed to myself sardonically, thinking not about Jesus’s sacrifice, but about the time I’d been told that I “ate like a mom.” I’d snarfed down my first ever, way-too-hot corndog at an amusement park, during the course of my older two sons’ merry-go-round ride while simultaneously moving the stroller (that my youngest was supposed to be sleeping in) back and forth rhythmically. I was mortified to realize that the operator of an adjacent ride was watching me, laughing as he informed me of that fact. I often find myself eating like that, in a hurry, on the go, in the car, while I work. When I eat like that, I sacrifice breathing, it seems.
And now that the holiday season is in full swing, I really need to breathe. Like many of us do, I put so much pressure on myself to create certain experiences, prepare special meals, decorate the house just so, choose the right gifts…not to mention take the perfect photos (perhaps to prove how perfect everything is, or maybe just to look at and experience later since I was too busy at the time creating, preparing, decorating and so on to notice anything.)
We had layoffs at my company this year. While I remained employed, many of my colleagues did not. On top of having survivor guilt, I am aware that “the bar has been raised,” as my manager stated. I didn’t ask, but I think that means my teammates and I are competing amongst each other to ensure we’re not the next ones to go. I am now doing more work, and frequently feel not only stressed out, but also panicked. No problem, I’ll get it done, I think as I prepare to tackle the fire drill du jour, while gulping yet another cup of coffee, wondering if I am close to overdosing on caffeine.
“Why can’t you remember where you parked your car?” My friend thought this was funny since I had only been inside the hockey rink for an hour, but sadly it’s a common occurrence. I had been hustling my youngest son along after having him dress and eat a snack en route – juggling the timing with basketball practice for my older two – and did not look back to make a mental note of where the car was. I don’t have room in my head for mental notes: there is already too much to think about and far too much information coming at me.
I learned at a conference recently that there are 2.5 quintillion bytes of information created daily and that 90% of all the data in the world was created in the last two years. One of my boys informed me of this Google Fact: the average user checks his phone 110 times a day. “Well, yeah,” I justified. “I have to check it because I don’t wear a watch anymore and that’s where I learn about the weather and my calculator is there…” my voice trailed off. That sounded lame even to me. The primary reason I look at my device is because that is where my email, messaging, and social media accounts are. (Incidentally, social media data is a huge portion of the 2.5 quintillion daily bytes).
“Ah yes! That warm, wonderful feeling when you spread yourself too thin, and deliver sub par in virtually every role you play…” was a friend’s recent Facebook status. Judging by the number of comments, there were many of us who could relate.
But why? What is par? Have we all raised that bar so high that we expect the impossible from ourselves? When is good enough?
According to Women’s Health Network, your stress response, often known as “fight or flight,” is a lifesaving mechanism powered by your adrenal glands. It can save your life in an emergency but after the threat passes, your body is supposed to return to normal function. The trouble is, our bodies interpret our grinding modern lifestyle as a never-ending emergency.
This sounds so ridiculous, but is mostly true for me, even though intellectually I know it’s not healthy to live with the stress that hurrying, overworking, overdoing, and multitasking can bring on. I often start my day worrying about getting the kids out the door, because we no longer live within walking distance to the school and I just don’t have time to make the 30-minute round trip if they miss the bus.
“Have you done your holiday shopping yet?” my colleague asked me the day after Thanksgiving break.
“No, I’ll probably just do it online.”
“Well, isn’t today Cyber Monday?”
“I suppose it is, but I really don’t have the time today.”
She and I then began lamenting about our workload and since she is Jewish, she’s was in the midst of Hanukkah as well as recovering from two Thanksgiving celebrations. I told her that I was thinking about adopting the CEO’s statement as my holiday mantra. “Yep, sounds like my approach,” she agreed. “I just uploaded a bunch of Thanksgiving photos and didn’t bother cropping or fixing the red eye – I just put them out there and sent the link to everyone. They looked good enough. People were just so happy to see the pictures.”
“What are you getting your kids for Christmas?” a mom at the bus stop asked me on Cyber Monday afternoon. It wasn’t the first time she brought this up, and I hoped it wasn’t because she considered our family to be the proverbial “Joneses” with whom she had to keep up. I had only just thought – as I walked down our long driveway to the bus stop – that since no one can see our house from the street how few decorations I’ll need. I can take the window candles – that look so nice on the outside but drive me nuts with their tangled cords on the inside – off the agenda altogether. We are definitely not the Joneses. “I don’t know… I’ll probably be able to get all their gifts at a sporting goods store. Probably online.”
Someone sloshed his hot cocoa all over the kitchen floor that night. When I unwrapped a brand-new roll of paper towels and handed it to him, we noticed that (instead of the festive motif I thought I selected) the towels had messages printed on them including “Mess happens,” “Whatever,” “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” “Keep calm,” and No worries.”
It’s a sign, I thought to myself.
I’m not going to dig through unpacked boxes to find the holiday themed cupcake wrappers: cupcakes are awesome no matter what wrapper they come in. I won’t squeeze in a shoe shopping trip for the outfit I am planning to wear to the office party: I already have a workable pair. I do not have to volunteer for or donate to every cause presented to me. I don’t need to attend every holiday fair or party…and right then, I vowed that this holiday season I will not set impossible expectations for myself. I will ascribe to more “be” and less “do” (I am a human being, not a human doing) – I want to be able to enjoy the season, not just view it as a series of items to check off my to-do list.
I will not let perfect be the enemy of good.
Perfectly good is good enough.