In Defense of Good Enough

I know how the title of this one sounds but I stand by it. Good enough is good enough.

I think I speak for the majority of us when I say that we put an enormous amount of pressure on ourselves in this field. We became social workers to help people, to fix their problems, to change the world. We can chant “meet the client where they are” a hundred times a day but deep inside there remains a voice that says, “you can fix this!” There is for me, at least. I’m seven years post-Master’s and there are still times that I forget that my goal is not to fix other people’s problems. My goal is to light the way on someone’s path, not lead it. Still, I have patients ask me all the time, “what should I do? What do you suggest?” Those questions put me on edge because I often don’t know the answer. That doesn’t make me a failure, though. It makes me human.

Part of being human means I have my own stuff to work through. There are days when I find my mind wandering in a patient’s house: did I call the air conditioning guy? When will I go to the grocery store? How am I going to get to my next visit on time? In those moments, I have to pull myself back and refocus on the person in front of me. Sometimes that’s hard to do.

Photo by  thr3 eyes  on  Unsplash

Photo by thr3 eyes on Unsplash

When I was on maternity leave and preparing to come back to work, I spoke with a therapist about how I could continue my work. I felt I had a newfound sense of empathy after having a baby but also a newfound sense that nothing else mattered. I feared that a part of my mind would always be preoccupied with thoughts of my daughter: was she eating, sleeping, crying, did she need me? How could I ever be fully emotionally present at work again? The therapist told me, “You will be better at your job and you will also struggle. And that’s ok. You have to accept not being at your best for a while but being good enough.”

I think about that all the time. There are any number of reasons we aren’t on our A game at all times: big milestones, like having a baby or getting married, but also small ones, like an upcoming vacation or an argument with a friend. It is impossible to be the best every single day. I imagine people in other careers have off days; why is it so bad for us to have them too?

I know the answer even before you shout it at me: we’re dealing with real people and their emotions. Our patients don’t care if we fought with our partner this morning or if our oil change is overdue. Their immediate world is fraught with illness and family dynamics and anticipatory grief. They do not have the space to take in our shit, quite frankly. We have to leave it at the door and do the best we can.

And on the days that we know our minds wandered, that we were not the most compassionate, the most healing, the most, we have to forgive that in ourselves. An expectation to be perfect is a good way to feel like a failure. So why set ourselves up that way? Good enough really is good enough.