UNDERWOOD: Good enough: Is it really great?

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By Rick Underwood

Contrary to popular belief, good enough can be as good as great.

Everywhere we look we hear powerful messages hammering on the importance of becoming great or successful. Whether it is in our work, parenting, marriage, or physical health, messages come at us from all directions telling us we need to do more to be more successful or better. 

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with striving to live and work more productively. Many are able to achieve success in material terms, which is wonderful. 

But often, those directives often lead to feelings of guilt, shame, inadequacy, and frustration. Rather than motivating us to do better we often find ourselves becoming anxious or depressed.

Or we may cover those feelings with workaholism or perfectionism that can lead to burn out. The irony is that this Type A behavior eventually erodes our creativity, innovation and productivity.

Once we arrive at this juncture, life becomes an unhappy drudgery. Many of us then consider changing jobs, swapping spouses or running away from our responsibilities as the answer to our unhappiness.

Even worse, some may increase alcohol intake or prescription drug abuse or explore other distracting activities. We gradually decompensate rather than doing what we like and liking what we do.

I was recently talking with an executive who has tried a variety of personal development techniques to improve his productivity.

Finally, he began to admit that much of his struggle was in his enormous expectations to be great or successful. He is the only son of the founder of a business that has been very successful. 

However, under his new leadership the business was struggling to be productive and profitable.

The process described above had brought him to a standstill. Not only had his productivity dropped dramatically, he was considering getting out of the business.

Another coaching client who is a wife, mother of two young children and full-time professional was experiencing symptoms of burnout.

In describing her plight she said, “Haven’t you heard what a woman my age is supposed to do?

“A successful woman is supposed to work like a dog, think like a man and act like a woman.”

I couldn’t help but think that many young men feel like they are expected to work like a dog, act like a woman and think like a man. If we then add to these expectations the normal demands of work, parenting, volunteering, hobbies and social networking, life can get in the way.

Regardless of the many encouragements to be successful, many famous quotes note that there are many failures on the way to success.

For example, Winston Churchill once said, “Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

Perhaps this is a thought that might make you feel tired but it has a ring of truth.   Maybe the answer lies in changing our desire or expectation from achieving success to experiencing happiness.

A successful man by most standards, named Dale Carnegie once said, “Success is getting what you want; happiness is wanting what you get.”

Happiness then can be experienced by getting what we want. That can mean being good enough while focusing on the things that matter most to you.


 Under the bill of my “Life is Good” cap are the words “Do what you like and like what you do.”

I wear the cap often because it shades the glare from my failing eyesight. In other words, I can see better.

I also keep it around to remind me of that perspective. My parents worked their entire lives in blue-collar jobs.  While I know they gained much satisfaction from friendships at their jobs and making a contribution to others, they never seemed happy doing what they were doing.

They couldn’t wait until retirement. Interestingly enough, they both found part-time jobs in retirement that they loved.

Obviously, it would be ideal if we could affirm both of those ideas in our current jobs. However, this is not the case for many people.

Sometimes we feel trapped in a job that pays better than anything else we are qualified to do.  Other times we might wish we could do something else but don’t have the education for it.

And there are those of us that value security or pleasing others so much we choose to stay where we are. Finally, we might be working so hard, climbing the proverbial ladder of success that we lose perspective of what is important.

The most important thing to remember about our current job is that we have a choice. Regardless of how we feel about the work we do, we have a choice every day whether to do it or not.

If there is absolutely nothing enjoyable about your job, perhaps it is time to do something else, or prepare to do something else.

Many people decide to go back to school or special vocational training while still paying the rent with a job that is not satisfying. On the other hand, if you like your work but constantly worry about what others think or are doing, get over it!

 Embrace your work and be the very best at what you do.

If you do what you like but don’t like what you do, then changes are needed. I am often amazed at folks who love their minimum wage jobs. When asked about their attitude they often say, “I am grateful to have a job so I am going to make the best of it.”

Again, this is a moment-to-moment choice. An attitude of gratitude can make all the difference.

Studies have concluded there are several factors that people report as reasons for job satisfaction.  The following is a short list:

§       Like my supervisor.

§       Have a good friend at work who is not my supervisor.

§       Able to do at least one thing that I am good at and enjoy doing.

§       Have an opportunity to learn and grow.

§       Have the resources to do my job.

§       My job has clear expectations.

§       I am able to meet some personal goals while helping meet the organizational objectives.

§       Told on a regular bases that I am doing a good job.

If any of these are missing in your job, why not ask for help?

Perhaps your supervisor thinks all this is happening.

The average person spends one third of his or her life at work. We can choose what success means for us during this time.

If we are finding meaning and purpose in what we do while helping our organization meet its mission, perhaps good enough can be as good as great.

Not everyone can be president! 


Rick Underwood is minister at Hempridge Baptist Church and a performance consultant and managing partner of the Leadership Management Institute. He can be reached at nextlevelinstitute@insightbb.com.