Years ago I learned something from my friend Jen Louden. It’s her idea of “Conditions of Enoughness”. Basically, it’s deciding before you set out to do anything what “enough” will feel like, so you know when you’re done.
I thought of this brilliant concept recently when hearing people talk about their drive for constant improvement. It occurred to me that constant improvement could actually be a bad thing.
Like, how you remove minute parts of a knife everytime you sharpen it. And, if you persist in sharpening the edge, at some point the knife loses its structural integrity and becomes a wisp of a thing rather than the sharp thing it once was.
I was reflecting on people who are what I call “anxious strivers”. The kinds of folks who are driven to go-go-go and do-do-do. Who only eat foods which have a point – their diet exists merely to provide protein, minerals, and “good fats”. They only read books which will improve their lives. Every spare minute is devoted to Doing Something In Service To Something Else.
Joy has very little role in their lives.
I have to ask, though: When you live in pursuit of constant improvement, when do you know how to stop? When do you know what enough is like? Because of the relentless “constant” in “constant improvement”, are you putting yourself on a hamster wheel that never stops and calling it exemplary performance?
Perhaps then, rather than constant improvement, we need to think about simply having clear goals and working to meet them. In that context, the questions become more like: How did I do yesterday? Do I need to do something differently than yesterday to reach my goal? Is it enough to keep doing what I’m doing and stay on this path I’ve set? Does this feel like enough yet?
That’s not to say stop learning. To stop incorporating your learning into your actions. I would never say that, because I’m a learner through and through.
I am suggesting that anxious striving, never knowing what enoughness looks like, never doing something just for the fun of it, sharpening your edge until you have nothing left… this is the recipe for burnout and unhappiness and, oddly enough, ultimately leads to a lack of real, meaningful progress.