What would be enough?

Just Enough, Patrik Nygren on Flickr

I searched for “enough” on Flickr and got this, which is nicely abstract for an abstract concept.

I worry a lot about not doing enough. I don’t floss enough. I don’t meditate enough. I don’t wear sunscreen often enough. I don’t work out enough. I don’t get politically involved enough. I don’t drink enough water. I don’t eat enough protein. I don’t give enough money. I don’t call enough. I don’t volunteer enough. I don’t write enough. I don’t cry enough. I don’t care enough.

(Enough is such a weird word. Why is English??)

This probably all ties back to my old friends, perfectionism and anxiety, and I have to work hard to remind myself that “enough” is a relative term. When my brain tells me something like “You don’t write enough,” what it’s actually saying is “You don’t write as much as [that person]” (usually Stephen King, because if you’re gonna hold yourself to unattainable standards, don’t just aim high, aim highest!). It’s not “You don’t work out enough,” it’s “you don’t work out as much as a professional athlete.” And those comparisons are, of course, silly.

Enough has to be a personal word for personal goals. It isn’t an objective standard. (Unless it’s flossing, in which case, you are right, self, you don’t floss enough.) This goes double for the immaterial and unquantifiable. How much writing is enough? How much political involvement?

And the other thing, of course, is that holding myself to the standard of enough means I don’t appreciate the any. Anything is better than nothing. Maybe I don’t drink two liters of water a day or whatever it is you’re supposed to drink to clear your skin, fix your anxiety, and flatten your stomach — but if I drink three glasses of water, that is better than no glasses of water. Maybe I was late to the social activism party, and there is this huge pile of toxic bullshit to deal with now, and I’m not dedicating every second of my waking days to trying to get rid of it — but if I take a couple of shovelfuls out of that pile, it is a couple shovelfuls smaller. Maybe I didn’t wear sunscreen for basically the entire six weeks we were walking El Camino de Santiago and the damage to my skin has already been done — but if I put some on today, that’s a little less more damage.

It is, to be hokey, the personal-goal version of that story about throwing seastars back into the sea. Can I save every seastar? Can I ever be enough of something? Maybe not. Probably not. But hey, I can make a difference to that one. And the journey of a thousand miles, and all that jazz.

This being said, it’s okay to push myself to do a little more than just anything. There is a balancing point, somewhere, between holding myself to the impossible standard of enough and letting myself off the hook entirely. That’s the trick I’m still working on — a little at a time.

 

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