When we moved my parents-in-law out of their big house and into the care home, we had the daunting task of clearing their property. Most of it went to charity or was put in three enormous skips, but some of the things we kept. One of these things is a lovely garden bench. It’s made of oak and is far more robust than most garden benches.
All garden furniture needs a little love from time to time, and this bench had no care for some years. Yesterday, I started to sand it down prior to painting it with wood preserver.
It was a tricky task, as the bench has a somewhat elaborate design on its back, but I persevered. Around the second hour it began to dawn on me that I was trying to do too much, I was trying to make every bit of this bench feel like silk, when all the fiddly bits needed far too much work to do in one day. I had a choice: either spend another two days with tiny bits of sandpaper smoothing the tiny spaces or declare that a rough sanding – just enough to remove the dirt and cobwebs - was good enough. You can probably guess which option I chose.
Only a few years ago, however, I wouldn’t have been able to choose good enough over perfection; I would have gritted my teeth and carried on, determined to achieve the standard I had set myself, even though that standard had proven unrealistic. It’s taken a long time for me to accept that good enough is good enough.
They say that perfect is the enemy of good, and I think that’s quite right. Good can be achieved in a quarter of the time than perfect. In many cases, perfect is simply unachievable.
There are occasions, of course, when only perfect will do. With a bank reconciliation, for instance, it is important to balance it to the penny. When I was training as an accountant, I remember my audit supervisor telling me that a penny difference could be £10,000 one way and £9,999.99 the other; and that one of those might just be a fraudulent transaction.
In most cases, however, good enough is good enough. It applies in more cases than my garden bench. We can be good enough parents, good enough employees, good enough students. We tend to think of good enough being just enough to scrape by but that’s not necessarily the case. My younger daughter got her A level results this summer. They were good enough for her to get into the university of her choice. Because you are now given your marks as well as your grade, she knows she was only one mark off getting a higher grade in one of her subjects and safely in the middle band of her other two. Her results were good enough, but they were also good.
Most of my garden bench feels like silk, and the fiddly little bits are smooth enough for the next step. That’s definitely good enough.