The Tyranny of Better

I’ve been noticing how perfectionism in myself and others affects my life a lot lately. There is such a strong pull toward the ideal for everyone. “Good enough” is often viewed as synonymous with mediocrity. I’m coming to realize that this is just too much pressure on us. We are all just dust. The worst part is that we are inflicting this unrealistic ambition on ourselves.

I have these two small, fat books of quotes that have been turned into artful expressions of themselves. One of my favorites is “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” which is an English version of what Voltaire said in French, which translated is “better is the enemy of good”. Voltaire was a miracle of mankind. As in, his life shouldn’t have been and he certainly had plenty of reason not to make anything exceptional of himself. His life reads like a Dickens novel. Look him up sometime.

This strikes me every time I see it. It is likely a print that will be framed. Better is the enemy of good. I want to pass it on a daily basis and be reminded. It has been a deep meditation at work in me for the past 4 months or so. There are more examples of this working in our lives than we can even fathom, and we pay such a steep price for “better”.  It invades everything we are and everything we do, everything that surrounds us. We are slaves to it.

Here are some examples.

If you have Formica counter tops, you likely look at them and think that granite or soap stone or butcher block would be better.

If you are a size 12 (which for many is in a perfectly healthy weigh class btw), you probably look at a size 8 and think how much better life would be if you were that size. If you’re a size 16, you look at a size 12… and there again is that concept of better slapping you in the face.

If you’re on social media, you probably see at least one peron’s life as better than your own and secretly dread their every posts even as you are clicking “like” on them. That person may even see YOUR life as better than theirs and have the same dread of your posts.

Your friend’s house could be better than yours for various reasons, and yet they are dreaming of something even better than what they already have.

Do you have vinyl flooring? Tile would be better.

Do you have laminate? Hardwood would be better.

Do you live on the North side? South side would be better.

Do you live in the city? Country would be better.

Live in an apartment? A house would be better.

Someone else’s spouse is better than yours.

Some one else’s kids are better than yours.

Do you see the pattern? It’s maddening and we can become slaves to it.

Where can we find sanctuary and respite from the dogged pursuit of better?

The realest, truest, most genuine question we should be asking about all this betterment is this: Is getting whatever better thing you are after at the moment really going to make your happier? Or is it just going to encourage more comparison and more ambition to achieve something even better?

I think that is the cruelest thing about our friend “Better”, she is never happy, never content. I think that is the real beauty in “Good Enough”. She’s content. She doesn’t stew in envy over someone else’s garden, she cultivates her own. She doesn’t stare with a lust for her friend’s roses because she is enamored with her own peonies. That’s another Voltaire quote, by the way. “We must cultivate our own garden.”

This sentiment of learning to be content with what you have is echoed throughout the Bible in so many scriptures. That’s the beauty of true wisdom, you hear it from one source and it echoes in another. There is an absolute quality to it that I find comforting.

Here are a few of my favorites in that regard:

1 Timothy 6:6-9 “To be sure, there is great gain in godly devotion along with contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, and neither can we carry anything out. So having food and clothing, we will be content with these things. But those who are determined to be rich (or better) fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and harmful desires that plunge men into destruction and ruin.”

Galatians 6:4-5 “But let each one examine his own actions, and then he will have cause for rejoicing in regard to himself alone, and not in comparison with the other person. For each one will carry his own load.”

Now is the true test for me. I will go around my life seeing things and choose contentment over envy. My house is lovely, it is good enough, I am content with it. My body is lovely, it is good enough and I am content with it. My husband, family and friends, I will find contentment in the sharing of their lives and how their lives meld and blend with mine. If I seek to better myself it will serve a function that is important to me, not as anything derived from a comparative or ambitious nature. I once read that “Ambition is the state of feeling perpetually flawed.” What a horrible thought that is. Why do we do this to ourselves?!

Further more, our seeking betterment or perfection in all things also pushes us to be controlling of others. Have you ever tried to control a situation only to fail and it made you miserable and you obsessed about it? Danger, Will Robinson, DANGER.

How often are we subjecting our spouses, families and friends to this need for perfect order and control? If we examine this behavior, would we see that the anxiety comes, not from what happens when we are not able to control everything, but actually from this need we have to control everything in the first place? Vicious cycle. Which comes first? The need for control in a situation or our need to control a situation? That’s a thinker. A humdinger even.

Getting into the habit of trying to control others also gets us in this mindset of believing we are always right. Only… We’re not. What if “right” simply doesn’t always exist? If you think about it, it can’t. That’s a lot of pressure for us tiny humans. Remember, we are just DUST. Our versions of right are most often entirely subjective and it impedes on the free will of others for us to constantly be trying to force them in to doing what we believe is right, which, again, is determined by our own highly subjective life experience and beliefs.

The more time I spend with people that are controlling, the more anxiety I have. I am not naturally controlling, but when influenced by others who are, I find that all of a sudden I have this powerful urge to control things. It stresses me OUT. It stresses my family OUT. I can’t stop others from being controlling, but I CAN stop myself. I can choose to restrict the amount of time I spend around such individuals. I can cultivate my own garden with peace of mind and contentment. I can choose good enough over the never ending pursuit of better.

And so can you.


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