Comedian Pete Holmes has a bit in which he says if you lower your standards for success, you feel better about yourself. Rather than beating yourself up for not getting ahead in your career or making enough money to buy that fancy car you have your eye on, achieve small goals. He uses the example of going to dinner in a new friend’s house and finding the silverware drawer on the first try. Yeah! You can be proud that you know the American way of housekeeping so well.
This approach makes a lot of sense. Yesterday, I cleaned half a bathroom. Today already I’ve flossed and brushed my teeth well before I had to run out the door. Success! My to-do list may be hundreds of items long, and I know from experience I can’t possibly complete ten percent today. But I can delight in my immediate accomplishments.
Sometimes it seems we aim our sights so high that we set ourselves up for failure. Following close on the heels of failure are self-doubt, uncertainty, insecurity. Then we don’t like ourselves much. We often go through the same exercise for our partners and children, too, making them miserable in the process as well as ourselves.
I remember in high school and college every person was going to achieve some momentous feat. One was going to be a surgeon; another, president of the US. Several planned to take over the world of finance and become billionaires at the same time. Too numerous to count were the best-selling authors, the world-famous performers, the wildly innovative artists sure to arise. My personal (unachieved) goal was to lose 40 pounds before I ever returned for a high school reunion.
How much more fulfilling if my aims are simply to reduce the stack of bedside reading by a magazine or two, water my houseplants before they die, write a decent paragraph each day. The ineluctable* reality—if good enough is enough, I just may enjoy my life more.
*Ineluctable: inescapable, inevitable, unavoidable