The enemy of the good
Left to my own devices, I am very much an uncompromising idealist. I heard, a number of years ago, a saying: “The ideal is the enemy of the good”* and the understanding of that began to change my life in a way that is still on-going.
I have discovered that being an idealist isn’t really an effective way to approach life, at least for me. It led to, among other things:
- Arguments and disappointment with my husband, because he wasn’t doing things right.
- Difficulty in making friends, because there just wasn’t anyone who was just the right kind of person with the right interests who was available at all the right times and with whom I could relate.
- Inaction or even paralysis in countless decisions, because I knew what the right way, the perfect situation, the ideal approach was, and it was just impossible for one reason or another. It was the Ideal Way or the highway.
- A dirty house. Why? Because I — who do an excellent job of cleaning — just wasn’t available to clean as much as I used to be, prior to having children, because I was doing things like making a meal for seven, or nursing a baby. My kids didn’t do things right, so I wouldn’t even let them clean!
And on and on and on. Seriously, that list could have 100 bullet points. Even stupid things like not listening to music, because ideally, I’d be able to purchase a whole CD (which I had discovered through research — reading a cool magazine or online review), and sit down and listen to the whole thing, whilst reading the liner notes, noting that they had the same guitarist for tracks 3 & 7 who played for another band I like, or guest vocalist on track 8 who normally sings with this other great band. God’s honest truth. It was hard for me to even turn on the radio, because it was full of bands that had emerged while I was changing diapers, and it bothered me that I would hear a song and not have any idea who it was. I used to be IMMERSED in music when I was younger, especially before I was married. I adored music, and loved unearthing obscure bands who were… just right. And because I no longer had the time or money to give myself to music, as I used to, for literally years, I stopped listening to most music, other than worship music.
I have shot myself in the foot countless times with my strict idealism.
I work, daily, to come out of unbending idealism into a position that is action-oriented and pragmatic, without tossing my morals and standards to the wind.
In other words, if my marriage is not all that I think it should be, I work both to be content in the moment, and not fault-finding, yet with a goal of doing x better both today and in the future, so that, even if my husband and I couldn’t write books about The Perfect Marriage, at least we can look back and honestly say, “This is better now than it was last year. Five years ago. Ten years ago.”
Does that make sense?
Coming out of idealism means assigning chores to my children, knowing that they just aren’t going to notice the smudges by the light switch or the dried drips on the soap dispenser and clean them, like I would if I was cleaning the bathroom.
It means reaching out with a friendly bit of conversation or an e-mail or a comment on Facebook to an acquaintance, even when I know that that woman is not likely to ever become my Best Friend Ever. I can still be friendly — I NEED to be friendly — even when the results of my efforts may not bear ideal fruit. I can’t just keep myself to myself and say, “That woman would never really like me, so why bother asking about her father’s health?” I can still care — I NEED to care — about people. I can be satisfied with a not-so-deep level of relationship, when before, that was entirely unacceptable. It was either deep, true, lasting, intense, loving, mutually beneficial friendship or nothing. And, much more often than the first, the second usually happened. People just don’t measure up. I don’t measure up. My time is not as available as it used to be… However, I have finally learned that I can’t keep pining for ideal friendship, disregarding potential relationships with the wonderful women who daily cross my path just because they will likely never be that Best Friend Ever…. That’s just stupid. It really is.
Thus, I will be satisfied with losing 4.3 lbs this past week, and celebrate that, instead of dwelling on the fact that I never exercised. It means saying, “OK. Well, fitting in a half-hour for working out, even twice a week, is harder than I thought it would be. But, hey, I can drop down right now and do a bunch of sit ups!” So, I did my 61 sit ups of various varieties, even though the ideal would be a total body workout, or some cardiovascular activity where I reach my target heart rate for x extended minutes.
Know what I mean?
*It turns out that the whole quote is “The pursuit of the ideal is the enemy of the good,” and it’s from Voltaire.