Or is it sometimes OK is good enough? Either way, that’s the best bit of wisdom I’ve ever received. I even remember approximately when and how this sanity-saving advice came under my purview. I believe it was when I had two small children, a near-absentee husband, a full time job and a large new-to-me house. It came in a rather unique format – a Beetle Bailey comic strip, and it must have been a Sunday one because, although I can’t remember the word order or the situation in which it was offered, I recall noticing the vivid colors when I would occasionally catch a reassuring glimpse of it, pinned to the bulletin board above the kitchen trash cans.
Since I so love to reveal my age, and for those of you who have never been exposed to the Sunday funnies in a printed newspaper, I can tell you that Beetle Bailey is an American comic strip created by cartoonist Mort Walker, who still writes it today, at age 92. Today, after more than six decades, Mort Walker’s creation is still one of the most popular comic strips in the world, and is among the oldest comic strips still being produced by the original creator.
The title character started as a college student when he debuted in 1950, before I was born, but was converted to an Army Private, as he supposedly enlisted during the Korean War. Most of the humor in Beetle Bailey revolves around the inept characters stationed at Camp Swampy, a fictional US Army military post. Private Bailey is a lazy insubordinate goof-off and straggler who usually naps and avoids work, and thus is often the subject of verbal and physical chastising from his superivisor and nemesis, Sergeant 1st Class Orville P. Snorkel. The characters never seem to see combat themselves, though Sarge is known to frequently beat up Beetle for any excuse he can think of, leaving Beetle a shapeless pulp (one of the most iconic images in the strip) . Sarge is too lovable to be a villain, however.
Sarge and Beetle seem to share an uneasy alliance that sometimes borders on genuine (albeit unequal) friendship. In this vein, in an exchange between these two comical characters, that is where I first read these memorable and valuable words, though I can’t remember which one said it. Nevertheless, in one brief shining moment, sometime in the mid-1990’s, I adopted this simple five word phrase as my mantra and guiding principle for all endeavors. What a relief that was! Clearly, while neither Beetle Bailey nor Sergeant Snorkel would have excessively high standards or expectations of themselves or others or certainly of the Army, I was struggling to live up to my own unattainable, if not clearly defined, standards as a mom, wife, career professional and neighbor as well as cook and housekeeper and quintessential California girl, which most of my new neighbors were.
Until then, as the eldest and golden child, the first in my family to have received not just one college degree but two, and the sole producer of grandchildren for my mom and dad, I had generally felt a constant striving for perfection. Then, suddenly, after therapy, yo-yo dieting, uncertain dating results and periods as a self-hating recluse, I was miraculously saved by this thought: Why? Why spend all that time and effort to achieve the perfect result when good enough was in fact enough for nearly everybody else but me. It had only taken forty years for me to accept that most of the people I cared about could and would accept what I did as the best I could do and that, therefore, I didn’t have to beat myself to do more or to accept that fact myself.
In my recent research into this topic, I came across an article titled Why It’s Healthy to Sometimes Settle for What’s Good Enough which hit the nail on the head with this statement. “People who tend to obsess over decisions, big or small, and then fret about their choices just cause themselves a lot of unnecessary grief. People who have trouble making the everyday decisions in their lives cause themselves a lot of extra stress and grief. A study from Florida State University suggests that some of their problem comes from an inability to commit. Even after making a choice, some people are never truly committed to it.” OMG, that was nearly me!
The article did cut me a little slack, though, by noting that there’s a little bit of perfectionist in all of us but some people take it to an extreme when making choices. This is what I used to do all the time, and still catch myself doing occasionally. “People who tend to obsess (or in my case stress) over decisions — big or small — and then fret about their choices afterwards are sometimes called maximizers, while those who make decisions and simply live with them are sometimes called satisficers, a portmanteau combining satisfy with suffice.” Thank God, I can now call myself a semi-satisficer. “Whether these differences are a central and stable part of personality or simply a frame of mind isn’t clear. What is clear is that indecisive people cause themselves a lot of grief that those who are more satisfied with their decisions don’t.” What a revelation!
A study of Florida State undergraduates produced results that were interpreted to show that maximizers still could not commit to their choices, even after were finalized. Their decision didn’t bring them happiness, it brought them doubt and caused them to second-guess themselves. The study also found that maximizers place a high premium on the option of being able to change their mind, even after making a decision. They want to avoid commitment.
“What this all suggests is that maximizers would be happier if they brought a little more perspective into their life and learned to accept minor decisions as final after they’ve been made.” Well, there it is. Sometimes good enough is OK, and sometimes OK is good enough for me these days.