Why “Good Enough” Isn’t Such a Bad Thing

Sometimes growth is small and subtle and doesn’t look all that impressive in the moment.
I had an interesting conversation on Twitter about the growth mindset and the expectations we have. In the course of the conversation, Karl (@LS_Karl is an insightful guy that often pushes my thinking) mentioned that he never settles for “good enough” and that he’s never satisfied.  There are things that he said that really resonated with me:
  1. I want to keep getting better
  2. I know that I won’t ever be fully satisfied with my class / space
  3. I’m okay with that, because I know I set the bar too high for myself
It has me thinking about my own journey. While never settling is what keeps Karl fresh and excited as a teacher, the sense of never settling for “good enough” is a mindset that has caused me to slip into an unhealthy perfectionism. 
When I was a brand new teacher, I didn’t settle for “good enough.” I was always changing everything. All things needed tweaking if not a complete overhaul. I found myself talking often about high expectations for myself and for students. I wasn’t satisfied with the work I had done, because it didn’t fit the ideal that I was going for. On some level, this led to growth. It led to better results. But it also meant I wasn’t able to let myself fail. It meant I grew risk averse. I had this dream idea of what my classroom would be and every time I missed it, I worked twice as hard to fix the situation. 
I hit a point where I had to step back and say, “I need to be okay with where I am before I improve.” I needed to find “good enough.” This sounds counterintuitive, but I needed affirmation. I need encouragement. I didn’t need to be pushed. I didn’t need to be challenged. I needed a message (if even from myself) that I would okay as a teacher. This dream classroom with a bar set away above my head would never be a reality and I came to the conclusion that the messy, mistake-ridden reality of my classroom community wasn’t such a bad thing. 

Since then, I’ve grown to accept that “good enough” is actually a good thing. 

Look, there are things I need to overhaul in my practice. Big steps I still need to take. I’m okay with it, because I’m firm in my identity as a good teacher. There are small things that I need to tweak. I’m good with that, because I’m good enough as a teacher. There are great things that I want to leave alone, because I do a great job at them and I’m not touching what’s working well. 
I guess my new process is to make reasonable goals, celebrate success often, build on my strengths, focus on my weaknesses, get help when a weakness becomes a liability and do my best to teach humbly, knowing that perfection isn’t the goal. 
This is why I struggle with any conversation that begins with “teachers should . . .” unless the rest of the sentence is anything other than “do their best to care about students and teach well.” It’s why I get tired of platitudes and bold statements about innovation and TED Talks about the ideal classroom. 
I won’t grow into a better teacher unless I can begin with “good enough.” 

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

More about John

7 responses

  1. As a fellow perfectionist, I appreciate this post a lot. My high expectations sometimes get in my own way far too often.

    Thanks!

    1. Thanks for the kind words!

  2. "I guess my new process is to make reasonable goals, celebrate success often, build on my strengths, focus on my weaknesses, get help when a weakness becomes a liability and do my best to teach humbly, knowing that perfection isn't the goal."

    Best line of the whole post. I think this is where we all were in the conversation. However, I'll push back more…how does "good enough" fit into the statement above?

    I also like how you tied in one of our side conversations regarding platitudes and bold statements that are often preached over the pulpits of #edtech or #creativity or #empowerment…or any other #edubuzz. They get tiring. And for individuals that like to be in the know and learn from what's going on around the world in education, hearing the overemphasis of the oversimplification of our work or of how to fix it can have an adverse effect.

    1. I think "good enough" is when a goal is met. I think "good enough" is a statement about identity as well. I see "good enough" as the completion of a goal. I think "good enough" is that spot where you say, "I am willing to use this again." You'll tweak it, but it won't need an overhaul.

      Maybe part of it is semantics. I think culturally we sometimes confuse mediocre or average with good. Good is a great place to be. True, we can reach higher, but it means it worked.

      I think the other issue is that if nothing is ever good enough, that will lead to crazy hours, perfectionism, etc. If I ask the question, "When is it good enough?" some people will say "never." But rephrase that question as "When is it good enough that you don't have to overhaul it?" or "When is it good enough that you can leave it alone and go home and be with your family?" Suddenly the notion of "good enough" sounds less like settling and more like setting a healthy boundary.

  3. I think sometimes my fine arts background has helped me more than I can possibly reflect on right now, but this has been a post brewing in my noggin for awhile – thanks for the mental push.

    1. I look forward to checking it out.

    2. Finding I have a lot to say about it. But I'll let this sit for now: http://blog0rama.edublogs.org/2014/10/02/masterpiece/

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