I was listening to the Happier podcast episode 187 where co-host Elizabeth Craft was talking about going away for the weekend with her family. As a TV writer, she’s super busy with her new show that’s just been picked up, so she was struggling to get away early on Friday to go camping with her husband and son. Instead, they went without her to the campsite on Friday night so she could work late, and she joined them the next day and they all came back together on Sunday. She was remarking how great it was, and by the time she got there it was like she’d been with them the whole weekend. And her son Jack got to ride on the train and get some quality time with his Dad.
I’ve frequently been caught off guard by something that seemed lame or not quite good enough that ended up being perfect for my son.
Sometimes, enough is…well, enough.
I’ll never forget last Halloween. Having just given birth to my youngest son, I was dealing with all the fluids and pain and mess that having a newborn implies. My older son LOVES Halloween, so I wanted to do some fun stuff for him, especially as he had just become an older brother and was having to adjust to me being less available to him.
So for breakfast on Halloween, I made him “banana ghosts” (aka a banana torn in half with chocolate buttons for eyes and mouth, though you can also use raisins for the facial features). I drew a little carved pumpkin on his mango Bear Fruit Yoyo before I put it in his packed lunch.
It seemed so underwhelming, but his face absolutely lit up when he saw the drawing on his fruit yoyo. And he STILL talks about the banana ghosts and asks for them on occasion (even though they are easy as sin to make I said they can only be a special treat for Halloween).
Or there was a kid’s fourth birthday party I took him to. There was a stage with three steps leading up to it in the village hall where the party took place. While the children’s entertainer the parents had hired was setting up, the kids created a follow-the-leader kind of game walking around the room, up the steps, across the stage, and down the steps again. They were having a blast. Then the entertainer was set up and he made them all get off the stage (“for safety reasons”). My son didn’t like how loud the music was and he didn’t care for the dancing or the games the entertainer was trying to make happen. The party was a success, but I wondered if they’d had been just as happy with a Trolls playlist on someone’s phone, party food, and a big room to play with all their friends for two hours. It could have saved the parents hundreds of pounds. And that party wasn’t even one of the more elaborate ones we’ve been to.
It’s funny how easily we can set the bar super high for ourselves, and then use it to beat ourselves up with when we fall short. But actually, who really set that expectation to begin with?
I can go on and on with examples of where I’ve been surprised that was I considered ‘just enough’ or the bare minimum ended up being perfect for my son. I can also think of plenty of examples of where the perfect day I had planned or the lofty goals I set for myself have ended up being overkill.
As a recovering perfectionist, it’s tempting to aim for perfect: The to-do list with everything crossed off by the end of the day. The perfectly tidy home ready for a magazine photo shoot. A picturesque garden overflowing with flowers and veg and wildlife. Patiently strolling home with my sons at the end of the day, talking about our days and smiling and laughing together. A romantic dinner with my husband, perfectly cooked.
The reality is more likely a to-do list with three things ticked off it and the rest carrying over to tomorrow. Crumbs on the carpet and fingerprints on the TV, but dishes are done. Patchy grass and occasional weeds in the garden, alongside the nice table and chairs we have out there and the ivy growing lusciously on the fence. Walking home trying to get my son to tell me something positive about his day instead of complaining the whole way home, bouncing the baby in the carrier while he flips between babbling away and fussing. A hurriedly thrown together dinner with my husband while the kids play/fight/play in the background.
But maybe that’s enough. The reality isn’t all bad. There’s a lot to love, and a lot I am totally grateful for. It’s real. It’s enough. Once I can let go of the lofty ambitions, I can appreciate what’s great about what is, and what is enough. I can even celebrate myself and my life a little, like how I managed to write today or how I made the bed.
Here are some journal prompts around enoughness and perfection.
What comes to mind when you hear the word “enough”?
It can be interesting to see what comes to mind. Do you think of settling, mediocre, passing? Or abundance, plenty. How does “enough” feel in your body? Does any part of you tense up or relax?
When might “perfect” actually be too much?
Can you think of a time when what you aimed for or what you decided would be perfect was actually too much? Maybe the fancy dinner party food when actually everyone preferred your shop-bought canapes. The big outing to the zoo when your kid’s favourite part of the day was riding the train. The hectic and stressful Christmas full of presents and gadgets and travelling hither and yon giving everyone indigestion, when a quiet day at home with family and food would have actually been nicer.
What do you really hope to achieve when you attain your idea of perfection?
How do you imagine feeling about yourself after having delivered perfection? Who are you trying to please? What’s the real outcome of that goal? For example, when you throw that perfect birthday party for your child, what’s the outcome or how do you imagine people might see you? Aside from your child’s happy face, do you imagine the other parents thinking/saying/believing anything about you?
Now consider this quote from Lynne Twist’s inspiring book The Soul of Money.
Sufficiency is not a message about simplicity or about cutting back and lowering expectations. Sufficiency doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive or aspire. Sufficiency is an act of generating, distinguishing, making known to ourselves the power and presence of our existing resources, and our inner resources…When we live in a context of sufficiency, we find a natural freedom and integrity. We engage in life from a sense of our own wholeness rather than a desperate longing to be complete.
Because I am whole and complete right now exactly as I am, today “enough” will look like ____________________.
Write as much as feels right. Enough might mean something concrete, measurable and tangible, like writing 200 words of your novel or taking a shower today. Or it might be the attitude, like doing what you can at work and logging off on time without feeling guilty. It might be a list of the things you need to get done today (but not a long, aspirational list!) that if you do these things you can look back and say you did enough.
I leave you with this
Another quote from The Soul of Money: