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How To Know When You've Done "Enough"



It seems like life is a constant battle for “enough.”


Are you working enough?

Are you resting enough?

Are you exercising enough?

Are you meditating enough?

Are you sleeping enough?

Are you traveling enough?

Are you volunteering enough?

Are you donating enough?

Are you saving enough?

Are you spending enough time with your spouse/kids?

Are you having enough fun?


In our hopes for full emotional orbit in all our endeavors, we often feel like we’re launching suborbital parabolas that peek into space, only to splash down unimpressively in the Atlantic shortly thereafter.


Bobbing in our capsule waiting for rescue, we not only tell ourselves that we’re not doing enough, but we tell ourselves that we’re not enough (personally, socially, economically, romantically, mentally, spiritually, physically, or whatever). This inherent inadequacy triggers our quest for more, in whatever form we can find in it. "More of" must solve "lack of!" we think. I guess I haven't gone the extra mile, or above and beyond. "Enough" must be right over the horizon.


Hold on, whose laws of gravity are we abiding by anyway? Twitter's? Instagram's? Your parents'? Society's? Your boss's? Friends who know best? Friends “who heard”? Or who freaking knows?


Welcome to rule #1 in the battle for your time, attention and guilt: Before you do more, figure out what enough is. And “enough,” by my definition, is: the least you need to do to attain a desired level of respect from yourself and those whose opinion you respect.


Let me explain.


When you ask your spouse, “How long are we staying at this birthday party?” what you’re really asking is, “What is the minimum amount of time I have to be here to not lose:

  1. the respect of myself

  2. our place in the social pecking order

  3. the respect of you, my spouse


Let's say,

  • Minimum amount of time to not lose the respect of yourself? - 20 minutes

  • Minimum amount of time to not lose your place in the social pecking order - 45 minutes

  • Minimum amount of time to not lose the respect of your spouse? - 60 minutes.

Therefore, the minimum amount of time you need to stay at the party is 60 minutes. Any less and you’ll have a confrontation between the things you value and their expectations of you.


Those additional 40 minutes might feel like you’re going “the extra mile” or “above and beyond” but there’s no such thing. You go the exact distance you need to go to fulfill the quota of “enough” that you’ve laid out consciously or subconsciously, happily or begrudgingly.


Let's look at this in a graphical sense. This vertical blue line represents all the possible amounts of time or energy that can be invested in a particular endeavor to keep or gain the respect of various people. The bottom edge of the graph equates to not moving a finger, and the top of the graph speaks for the frantic, "I guess I'll sleep when I'm dead" life.



The people whose respect and approval we seek are various: you, your family, your friends, your work, society and whatever else you hold dear. These people, or drivers, will be represented by horizontal lines that intersect your vertical line of effort.

For our party example we have the following representation:



This holds true until you get new information like, when you get to the party, Maggie, an acquaintance, can't wait for you to meet her boyfriend, Stefan, but he's not coming for 90 minutes. Unfortunately for Maggie, you deem that meeting Stefan isn't important enough to stay 30 more minutes than you already have to.


However, if Maggie is one of your wife's best friends, then Maggie's level of "enough" becomes your wife's level of enough, thus ensuring you shaking Stefan's hand 90 minutes from now (unless you can negotiate an early departure for yourself, or a ride home for your wife, without the risk of any blowback.)


Both scenarios graphed out below. (You can click on the expander in the top right of any image to make them bigger.)


The Maggie Situation



We are constantly recalibrating "enough," in any situation. How long do you let the kid kick the back of your seat on a plane (remember those?) before you say something to the parents? How does that time differ if you're flying alone or if your spouse is sitting next to you? Or what if it was a single parent? What if the parent was pretty/handsome? Or what if the kid was kicking your spouse's seat? What's "enough" then? Who is setting the bar for the minimum you have to wait to say something?


What About Work?


Perhaps there's no bigger topic of "enough" in our lives than at work. Let's look at how a simple "Effort Graph" might look there.



Your friends like you when you have a job and can hang out. They don't really care how much effort you put forth so long as you're cool with you. Your folks don't want you to be a schlub, and you're cognizant of social norms, but it's the job itself (deliverables, deadlines, politics or whatever) that is actually demanding the most out of you. You may not love your work, but you certainly value the income and health insurance.


However, it's not always our job that defines how much "enough" is at work. Sometimes we're the consummate overachiever (below, left). Or maybe we feel pressure from our family to have a particular job title or status (below, center). Or maybe we're reading so many articles in Inc. Magazine about success or purpose that we feel we need to live up to some more perfect ideal (below, right).



How To Navigate "Enough"


How can we both do and be, excel and reflect, reach our potential and save some potential energy without stepping on a landmine of "more" or rejecting the people who rely on us?


We'd all love a world where our self-interest was our north (and only) star, but unless you're Thoreau milling about Walden Pond for years on end, this is hard to come by.


The trick for the rest of us is to have a relatively short distance between our personal expectations and the overall height of "enough" (below, left). When this happens there's an alignment between what you want and what the world wants from you.


The real quagmire happens when your personal "enough" is far short of your reality's (below, right).



Ok, but even in the aligned scenario above, "enough" seems like a lot!


And that's an important distinction. Minimums aren't necessarily small. The minimum you have to do to be a Navy SEAL, an astronaut or a published author is a lot more than a little bit.


In the wild, a lioness will go to any length to take care of her cubs. “Any length” is the minimum bar that nature has set for her. You need to trek for miles and take down that buffalo or you and your cubs starve. It’s literally the minimum she needs to do.


(Good thing we don't live on the savannah.)


And then there's the minimum energy it takes being you, keeping up with all of "them," that's keeping you more frayed than ripped denim.


The ideal scenario we're hunting for would have us set a healthy expectation of enough while the rest of our values weren't far away (see below). We want those other values close because we still want people challenging our assumptions and pushing us to be the best version of ourselves, we just don't want to be living their expectations if they're not relatively aligned with out own.




What Is It Costing You To Value What You Value?


I realize that raising and lowering imaginary bars on a line graph doesn't take into account all the advanced calculus of your life. For sure, life is demanding and will always be demanding. We can't just Bye, Felicia! or Keep It Real at the drop of a hat, but we do have some control.


If you're feeling drained (yet inadequate) in a particular vertical of your life, chances are you're having a clash of values or are drowning in the wake of their expectations. Ask yourself these three questions:

  • Do I even want to value these things?

  • Who is establishing the minimum I have to do to satisfy expectations?

  • Are these expectations real or perceived?

Do you want this job or does your dad want you to have this job?

Are you blogging once a week because that's what someone online told you to do?

Are you writing a book because your friend wrote one?

Are you working late because you've been asked or because Craig always works late?

Are you redoing that presentation for the umpteenth time because you want to or because you think your boss wants you to?


Scrub your drivers. Understand their expectations.


If you don't, the world will gladly convince you to do more.


"Enough" is enough.

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© Bassam Tarazi 2020