Good Enough or Perfect?

Aren’t words powerful? Come on, admit it. You know they are. Powerful enough to rouse the sleeping beast within, calm the troubled heart, or stimulate the deepest of thoughts, words are amazing creations.

Fortunately for me, I have friends who feel the same about the fun, power, derivation, and meaning of words. A few weeks ago, a group of logophiles met to share new words over lunch. That morning, I had listened to a podcast by Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, and was reminded of the difference between satisficers and maximizers.

After sharing our new words, I hesitated before adding these two words to the mix. Were they too frivolous? Was I partial to them only because of my interest in positive psychology and happiness? After about three seconds of hemming and hawing, I shared Rubin’s words, and we all decided we were (are?) satisficers in most areas. That word, by the way, is a combination of satisfy and suffice.

Since then, I’ve been pondering just how important one’s attitude towards “good enough” vs. perfection can affect happiness and overall well-being. I think Rubin is on to something. Further investigation by a lunch partner revealed that this idea was  espoused by Barry Swartz in The Paradox of Choice.

Here’s an edited version of what I posted on psychcentral.wordpress. com earlier this morning.

Writer Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, and creator of the book related blog and podcast, has tackled the concept of happiness with zeal. Although she isn’t a psychologist, Rubin incorporates the theories of philosophers and psychologists into her personal observations and experiences. A gifted writer, she makes learning about happiness interesting.

One of Rubin’s ideas is based on that of psychologist Barry Swartz, author of The Paradox of Choice. Swartz contends that choice overload can actually make us less happy as we set our expectations too high. Should I try the  vanilla latte or the sea salt caramel hot chocolate?? And what about paint color? Would Soothing Aloe look better on the dining room walls than Morning Zen? And then there are relationship issues. We’re told to “never settle,” and yet is there really a Mr. or Ms. Right waiting in the wings?

Instead of agonizing on and on about decisions, Swartz and Rubin advise readers to go with “good enough.” People who do so are called satisficers and are generally happier than the maximizers those who make perfection a quest.

Years ago, I was involved in a fender bender and had to go car shopping. Friends inundated me with information about price, makes, models, reviews, mileage estimates, and deals. I listened for a while but then began to get a little dizzy with so many facts and opinions.

After work one afternoon I drove the rental car into Sparks Toyota with some ideas about what I wanted. Small, good on gas, and affordable were the top criteria. I knew I couldn’t buy (wouldn’t buy) a new car, but I didn’t want to buy a clunker either. As soon as I walked on the lot, I saw it: a dark green Corolla that was two years old. The salesman was a little surprised at the quick decision, but he didn’t try to talk me out of it or sway me to a more expensive option.

A friend, incredulous that I had made such a snap decision, told me that most people didn’t buy cars that way. Instead, they did a little research first, even traveling across the state to see and test drive different models.  She admitted that it usually took several months for them to make a decision and that even then, she and her husband ended up second guessing themselves. They’re maximizers, and I’m a satisficer.

What about you? Do you have to have things “just right” to be happy, or is good enough okay? 

Making a Place

Today’s my last day of full-time employment with the state of South Carolina. It’s been a grand ride. I’ve met literally thousands of people who have enriched my life in the most amazing ways. I’ve had the opportunity time after time after time to feel the magic in a classroom, that moment when a student “gets it,” when he connects the dots and sees how the concepts actually apply to his life.

I’ve heard it said many times that if you want something to happen in your life, something new or exciting, you have to make a place for it. I think that “place” (I hope my friend Joey will overlook those quotation marks if they’re used incorrectly) could refer to both physical and psychological space. It could even mean time and energy.

That said, today is a most exciting day. It’s the last day of full-time employment with the state of South Carolina. It’s been a grand ride. I’ve met literally thousands of people who have enriched my life in the most amazing ways. I’ve had the opportunity time after time after time to feel the magic in a classroom, that moment when a student “gets it,” when he connects the dots and sees how the concepts actually apply to his life. Then there were the moments of laughter and pure unadulterated fun. Yes, that’s allowed in a classroom, at least in mine.

I’m not going to walk down Memory Lane this afternoon. I’ll save that stroll for another day. Today I just want to emphasize that it’s time for a new chapter to begin, and the only way for me to get there is to make some room. Hence, I’m freeing up some time to pursue other interests and explore different opportunities.

Yes, I’ll miss my work buds. I’ll miss my little office too. What I won’t miss is leaving home every single workday at 7:00 a.m. to drive to Sumter or Bishopville for an early morning class. Nor will I miss those night classes. Like Oprah said in her farewell show, “Been there, done that.” My husband and I have plans for Monday morning. We’re going to have breakfast at the local Huddle House, and I plan to sit by the front window so that I can have a good view of all the working stiffs racing by on their way to schools, banks, hospitals, and offices. 

Then I’m coming home to read, write, walk, and put some of my dreams into action. I might even take a real estate course. Yes, I know it’s not a good time to do that. I don’t care about getting rich; I just like looking at houses, and I think I might be pretty good at matching people with just the right home. I might help my sister-in-law Karen in her new business, and she won’t even have to pay me! I’m going to spend more time with my children and grandchildren. Atlanta, Conway, and Rincon (alphabetical order), here I come!

 We’re also going to do some traveling, and Otis has begun a travel fund for us. Alaska is first on our list. Maybe this fall we’ll go on a road trip to New England just to see the leaves. Why not? I’m making a space for it. Some of my friends and I love NYC, and I’ve started a little fund for that too. On my next trip, I’m going to see/hear the Brooklyn Gospel Choir. I’d also like to see where Abraham Maslow grew up. And I never tire of visiting Ellis Island, the MoMA, or the Museum of Natural History.

Between all the goings-on, I’m making a space for writing. I’m having a couple of pieces published in the next few months, and I have a half a dozen books on the back burner. I can’t get to any of those projects, however, unless I make a space for them. That’s why today is my last day.

Okay, let’s back up. It’s my last day of full-time employment, not the last day of employment period. When classes start again in a couple of weeks, I’ll be teaching a couple for CCTC and one for HGTC (online).  I’m excited about that and have already been collecting material. For instance, I just learned that obesity is the second cause of premature preventable death in America. Smoking is number one.  Can’t wait to share that with my Human Growth and Development classes.

In the meantime, my husband just stomped upstairs where I’m working and told me that I needed to make some space to walk around up here. All the office “stuff” is scattered about and is driving him crazy.

Ask Billy

This is without a doubt the shortest and yet perhaps the most profound post I’ve ever written.

One of the many topics that arose during lunch with Nancy today is the importance of living one’s life to the fullest. Yeap, for those of you who know me, that sounds like a familiar refrain. Nothing new, huh? And yet, don’t we all need reminding of the importance of seizing the day every now and then? For me, the reminder came from a poem that I recently read in a book entitled Risking Everything. The poem, “My Dead Friends” by Marie Howe, moved me. 

I’m posting it here for you to read and ponder.

My Dead Friends

I have begun
when I’m weary and can’t decide an answer to a bewildering
  question

to ask my dead friends for their opinion
and the answer is often immediate and clear.

Should I take the job? Move to the city? Should I try to conceive
   a child
in my middle age?

They stand in unison shaking their heads and smiling–
   whatever leads
to joy, they always answer,

to more life and less worry. I look into the vase where Billy’s
   ashes were–
it’s green in there, a green vase,

and I ask Billy if I should return the difficult phone call, and
   he says, yes.
Billy’s already gone through the frightening door,

whatever he says I’ll do.

What do you think, my friends? Do you want to continue playing it safe? Are you going to keep worrying about what the neighbors might think? Will your relatives disown you? Are you willing to live a safe but boring life, or will you take Billy’s advice and say YES??? You know what I’m doing, right? I’m heading to the circus where’s more life and less worry.

Bravely Taking a Step

Fear of the unknown, fear of change, and even fear of success (FOS) can prevent people from living their dreams. Sometimes, however, playing it safe is the riskiest choice a person can make. By this time next week, my friend and his family will be strolling around the viaduct in Auckland trying to decide which trendy café or restaurant to dine in. Where will you be?

My friend Connie posted a link to a blog on courage on her facebook page today, and it reminded me of how much we all need to be a little braver (or maybe a lot braver) in living our lives. Last week, a former colleague of mine took a HUGE step towards changing his life, and I’ve been thinking of how difficult it must have been for him to step out of the security of his life and literally fly into a new one.

I missed Ray (a.k.a. Mr. Hines) at work yesterday morning. He’s the math instructor who’s been teaching in the classroom next to the room where I keep a couple of office hours on MW’s.  I’ve listened to his math lectures since January, and I’ve often admired his enthusiasm and diligence.

He didn’t call in sick. And no, he didn’t get fired. He’s on his way to Auckland, New Zealand, a beautiful area that he’s always wanted to visit. Recently he and his wife found teaching positions there, and they decided to go for it. They sold their home, cars, and much of their furniture. What they couldn’t sell, they gave away. “Carpe diem” is their motto…or one of them at least.

Some people might say, “Well, it’s easy for them. They probably don’t have a family.” Actually, they do. The parents of two young sons, Ray and his wife have parents and other extended family members who live in the United States. They’ll be missed. Other people might say, “They’re nuts to sell everything they own to go off on an adventure like that. It’s downright foolhardy!” Regardless of what anyone might say, this young family will soon be enjoying some of the sights and sounds of the beautiful South Pacific. They had the courage to pursue their dreams, and if things don’t work out, they’ll move back.

In psychology, we often talk about the paralyzing effect that fear can have. Fear of the unknown, fear of change, and even fear of success (FOS) can prevent people from living their dreams. Sometimes, however, playing it safe is the riskiest choice a person can make.

By this time next week, Ray and his family might be strolling around the viaduct in Auckland trying to decide which trendy café or restaurant to dine in. Where will you be? Will you still be saying, “Someday, I’m going to….”?

Philosophizing at Nacho Hippo

I truly believe that we as humans are the sum total of all of our choices. Each day, each hour of each day, we make choices about what we’ll eat, how we’ll spend our time, with whom we’ll associate, whether we’ll study or watch television, whether we’ll exercise or waste more time on FB, and so forth. Physically, mentally, cognitively, emotionally, socially, and behaviorally, we make choices all the livelong day, choices that can affect our future, our health, and our careers.

One of the many enjoyable things I did during the Christmas holidays is reconnect with old friends. On New Year’s Eve, I met Dorothea at Nacho Hippo at Market Commons in Myrtle Beach, and we spent an enjoyable hour or more reminiscing and philosophizing. Dorothea and I had a great time talking, talking, talking, and I found myself wishing we’d had more time to get better acquainted when we were younger mothers.

One of our topics of conversation was personal choice. Over delicious nachos and tacos, I told her that the most profound thing I learned in college was that I am the master (or should that be mistress?) of my fate. I can blame my disappointments and shortcomings on the weather, the economy, my children, or my ancestors, but that’s a copout. Really, it is.

Decades ago, I was sitting in a PHI 101 class stealthily working a crossword puzzle while I listened to the professor talk about some of the great thinkers in philosophy. A lot of the things he was saying were either too complicated for me to understand or too boring for me to think about. But then, Dr. Jones began extolling the work of Jean Paul Sartre and said these thought provoking words of Sartre: “I am my choices,” a simple phrase that I’ve never stopped thinking about.

Granted, there are “extenuating circumstances,” but overall, I truly believe that we as humans are the sum total of all of our choices. Each day, each hour of each day, we make choices about what we’ll eat, how we’ll spend our time, with whom we’ll associate, whether we’ll study or watch television, whether we’ll exercise or waste more time on FB, and so forth. Physically, mentally, cognitively, emotionally, socially, and behaviorally, we make choices all the livelong day. Plus, as Dorothea and I discussed, the little choices we make pile up over time and can affect us in all sorts of ways, some good and some not so good.

As I sit here at the computer, I’m dining ( late lunch) on some goodies that one of the admissions counselor’s mothers brought by for us. I ate a ham sandwich on white bread (no wheat available) without mayonnaise. I opted for pretzels instead of chips, one dark chocolate Bliss square, and a tiny little piece of a brownie. Oh yes, and I’m drinking water. I can’t see myself drinking another soft drink after reading about the correlation between sodas and diabetes and obesity. I’m not bragging on my restraint (I wanted a brownie, chips, and another sandwich) but merely demonstrating the impact of personal choice. Oh, and I also went for a three-mile walk before work this morning, and YES it was cold, very cold. It would have been easier to stay in my warm house and play Scrabble on my Kindle, but too many choices like that, and I’d end up stiff, grumpy, and chubby.

That’s one type of choice. Here’s something else I heard from a student yesterday. She’s begun and dropped out of three different programs at the college, all for the same reason: they take too long to finish!

“What are your career choices if you don’t graduate?” I asked her.

“That’s why I’m back again,” she said. “I’m going nowhere fast in my present job. I don’t even have any benefits.”

Looking through the schedule of classes, we found a couple that would fit her schedule. Unfortunately, she hasn’t committed to either of them yet. Too late at night, too hard. What will she decide? It’s her choice, and it’s a choice that could affect her entire future and that of her children. It’s only a semester and only two courses, but these courses are fundamental stepping stones…or not.

Last week Dorothea and I walked out of Nacho Hippo still animatedly discussing the importance of personal choice, and I’ve got a feeling she’s still thinking about it today. I know I am.

Galloping and Prancing Along

Had you rather look at the neighborhood mums and pampas grass or walk on the beach and look at hundreds of beautiful prancing, trotting, galloping horses? You never know what awesome sights you’ll behold if you don’t get outside and “just do it!”

Quick post about the wisdom behind “Just do it!” I went to the beach this past weekend, primarily because I wanted to attend a baby shower of a friend’s daughter. Plus, my better half was “in the woods” on the hunt for that elusive deer, and I think he’s happier when I’m engaged in something fun. Less guilt on his part, less nagging on mine.

I woke up Saturday morning with tons of things to do before the shower at one. The event was in Shallotte, NC, and I hadn’t even bought a gift yet. It was chilly outside, and I thought, “I think I’ll skip walking this morning and aim for this afternoon. “  Who was I kidding?? I knew good and well that if I didn’t put the miles in that morning, then I wouldn’t be doing it that day. I had plans with one of my lovely daughters that afternoon, and they didn’t include walking.

“Okay,” I thought. “I’ll just walk around the neighborhood. It won’t be that bad (boring), and I can always get landscaping ideas.”  While lacing up my shoes, I had change of heart and decided to go to the beach. It’s only couple of miles from my front door. How could I justify letting such an opportunity pass?

Folks, I’ve been going to Myrtle Beach for decades, and I have NEVER seen the sights I saw Saturday, at Myrtle or any other beach.  At first, I saw three horses and their riders and thought of how cool and unusual that was. Then a couple more passed me. Looking into the distance, I could see perhaps a dozen more trotting towards me.  Before the hour was over, I had seen hundreds of them. I’m not too good at estimating numbers, but trust me when I say HUNDREDS. Some were galloping, some were prancing, and others were just sauntering along. Some liked the surf and ran right through it; others were more skittish and raised a ruckus when their riders tried to steer them in that direction.

Not only were the horses an enjoyable sight to behold but so were their owners. All were smiling and reveling in the sheer beauty of the morning and of the opportunity to be on the strand. I responded “Good morning” to dozens and dozens of greetings. I began to wonder if perhaps there was a certain personality type (extraverted and friendly) that gravitated towards horseback riding, but when I asked a horse owner at church yesterday, she said, “No, they were just all happy to be allowed to ride on the beach.” Sadly, she missed that ride but will be there with her hat and boots on next year.

Apparently, Myrtle Beach allows horses to be on the beach one day per year, and Saturday was that day. It was an awesome sight, one that I would’ve missed if I’d walked around the neighborhood admiring mums and pampas grass. Just do it! You never know what you’ll see right outside your door.

What Does Your Unconscious Say?

When making decisions, I agree with Dr. Scott Peck’s advice to listen to your unconscious…and to your body.

Yesterday I was reminded of some of the reasons I went into teaching instead of counseling. The latter takes too long, and more importantly, there are no easy, sure-fire answers. In teaching, there is always a certain amount of planning, reading, preparing, and thinking, but when show time comes, you go in and share the information. In counseling, well, there’s always an element of loose ends and unfinished business.

As I listened to the young woman tell me of her quandary yesterday, I thought of all sorts of advice to give her. In counseling, however, you’re not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to listen in an empathic, nonjudgmental manner and ask the “client” what she thinks she should do. You can paraphrase once in a while, but giving advice is taboo. If you tell the person something that works, then she might come back again and again for more of the same. You don’t want that; you want her to gain confidence in making her own decisions. If, on the other hand, you suggest something that doesn’t work, then guess who’s to blame? YOU.

So yesterday I just listened and listened and listened until finally I blurted out, “Look, there are no easy answers to this. I mean, you have a lot to consider here.”

“I know, I know,” she said. “Maybe I’ll figure it out.”

“You will.  But in the meantime, don’t do anything rash.”

“I won’t,” she said. “I just wish I knew what to do.”

That’s when I remembered some sage advice from Dr. Scott Peck. I don’t have the book with me this morning, and truthfully, I can’t remember which one I read this in. Yet, this advice has stayed with me for a dozen years or more. Dr. Peck said that the number one thing his patients wanted was absolute assurance that they were doing the right thing. The dilemmas might vary, but the uncertainty was always the same.

Should I go back to school?
Should I quit school?
Should I get married?
Should I get a divorce?
Should I change jobs?
Should I have another baby?

Should I move to Savannah?
Should I retire?
Should I fly to California or drive?

Dr. Peck felt that regardless of the question, the answer was seldom certain.  He advised his patients to listen to their unconscious and ask themselves questions such as: How does your body feel? Are you tense when you consider this decision? Does your chest hurt? Do you feel a certain lightness of spirit? In other words, what is your body telling you? Together, your body and unconscious mind are smarter than you are when it comes to making decisions.

I hope my young friend is thinking about Dr. Peck’s words today.  As I struggle with a decision today, I sure am.