What it takes to be good enough

I’m lazy.

And, not in a judgy, we’re-all-losers-together-in-this-mad-game-of-life way, I bet you are too. A little bit. If we’re honest.

Yet we still have these big visions, of climbing Everest, getting our debut novel onto the New York Times best-seller list (“take THAT Neil Gaiman!”), playing with Wynton Marsalis, nailing that 45 ft curling birdie putt on 18 to win The Masters.

Walter Mitty is alive and well.

The experts will tell us that it takes ten years of dedicated effort to put ourselves in the area of those performances. Not just showing up and putting in the hours, but hard, frustrating, failing and recovering work to get there.

And then there are no guarantees of succeeding.

But let’s say you have it in you to do that – to start from the very beginning and then day after day show up and put your ego on the line and put in the deliberate practice to hone that skill.

And after that, if you’ve chosen a physical event like mountain climbing you put even more time into recovery, sleep, nutrition and therapy for strained body parts so that you can keep doing it. And you quickly discover that you don’t have time for much of anything else – a movie here, a dinner with friends there, a part-time job to pay the bills, but man, you are ALL IN on this.

It’s really easy to back away from this commitment and explore more things that life has to offer. I get it, I do. Because I did. My commitment weakened over time and I faded away from the work. And I want to write about the psychology of motivation and sustaining focus and how some of us do succeed to get to the top of that mountain. But I’ll do that another time.

Right now I want to talk about Good Enough.

Some of us (and I suspect it has a lot to do with the media in America and our everyone-can-be-the-best-if-you-just-try-hard-enough culture) have a hard time with being good enough. If we’re going to do anything, let’s be as good as we can be, right? Get the best grades, don’t get caught looking at that guy on the bench next to you but picking up the next heavier dumbbells, spending $30 at Chuck E Cheese to get the high score at skee-ball….

Then it struck me the other day that everything I did was all relative to what I could see around me.

It’s an oldie…

Remember that joke about the two campers in the woods who just spotted a bear? A bear walks up to the edge of the campsite and the first guy starts lacing up his shoes. The other guy tells him that he’s wasting his time, that he can’t outrun a bear. “I don’t have to. I just have to outrun you.”

So we may not have it in us to be the best there ever was, but we can be pretty damn good. Good enough to win a local race, good enough to finish a half-marathon, good enough to delight ourselves. But that good enough-ness comes with a price, but it doesn’t cost ten years and a decade of passed up opportunities.

I watched this TED talk by Josh Kaufman who explained the how-to of good enough (semi-pro tip: it’s 20 minutes, but if you watch it at 2x speed, you can be learning the ukulele 10 minutes from now…)

Josh talked about becoming a father and how he loved his child but also how his free time had shrunk. But he still wanted to learn new things but he was more curious than he was determined to master the new challenge. And he started to recognize that the people around him in his world, the people who he considered (and others considered) to be experts, weren’t actually THAT much better than the rest of them.

They weren’t THAT much better

They were better, no doubt about that. But they weren’t Michael Jordan vs You-in-your-driveway better. He wanted to figure out how much time it took to become good enough – better than most everyone around him, good enough to be considered an “expert” compared to the next nine dudes around him. And he figured it out:

20 hours.

That’s it. Just 45 minutes a day for 27 days to be better than just about anybody you’re going to pass in the street or meet in the office today.

I thought that was really cool. And then I started thinking: what would I want to be Good Enough at?

I made a list. Because that’s how I figure stuff out. And this is what I came up with:

* Learn the ins and outs of term sheets
* Play the piano
* Design and plant a perennial garden
* Public speaking
* Create a TED talk of my own
* Build up my calves
* Learn the biology of sugar addiction
* Map the market landscape of sports performance worldwide
* Play the guitar
* Learn how to sing
* Draw portraits
* Learn how to code
* Figure out WordPress
* Bike repair
* Mediterranean cooking
* Gluten-free baking
* Learn what the blockchain and cryptocurrency are

That was without even trying.

I’m going to pick one of these and start today and I’ll let you know how it goes.

What’s on your list?


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