8.5 Creative Enemy: Enough, already?

Sound & Shadow


by Janet  Grace Riehl

What bedevils me most in my life and creative work is the question: “When is enough…well, enough?” Not enough, and I’m a slacker. Too much, and I’m overwhelmed. Where is that blessed Middle Way?

I come from a family of over-achievers. Or, in the case of my older sister Julia—world class physicist—maybe just achievers. We were always to do our best, but lurking either in the background or the foreground was the elusive and egging-on of The Thompson Standard. I didn’t have a name for it until a physics colleague spoke at my sister’s memorial service. My sister—so exemplary in every way–was driven by The Thompson Standard. The most agonizing facet of this family standard was that it was always in the distance—firmly out of reach. Call it perfection. Call it idealism. Call it torture. Call it love.

I’d bet that many of you have your own version of The Thompson Standard. Am I right? Is there a way to make this Impossible Dream work for rather than against us? I’ve been noodling over this, and here are some ideas.

1)  Name it. Having a handle for it, gives us a handle on it.

2)  Balance point. Can you rate where you are now, where you need to be, and where you want to be? Maybe on a scale of 1-5 where you are isn’t all that bad.

3)  Relax your standards. No, I’m not kidding. Establish what’s Good Enough. Commemorate this decision in your journal. A messy house until guests come? Sweats and pajamas on a rainy day? Time to read, not always work? Be easy on yourself and those around you. As my father says, “No strain. Don’t make it a forced affair.”

4)  Healing humor. If you can smile or laugh about your over-drive, then maybe you can observe the speed limit of your own limits.

5)  Perspective. Artists know that the foreground appears bigger than the point in the distance. What if we could make our own rules of perspective in our creative lives?

6) Ditch it. Oh heck, why not? I only have to follow my brother’s efficiency as he zooms through an average day on our father’s farm, squeezing more productivity into 16 hours than one can imagine. How does he do it? One key is that he knows just the right amount of “enoughness” for each thing he does.

While I might labor over an elaborate mid-day meal, he slings a pork roast with sweet potatoes and onions in the oven, and it tastes just as good. He cuts through all the extra stuff. Where I am a master of complexity, he is a master of simplicity. When he sees me all in a dither, he advises that I ditch the Thompson Standard. I just might one of these days.

In May 2005, the spring after my sister died, my niece Diane Thompson shared these words. Six years later—and no doubt throughout my life—I’ll use her wisdom as a touchstone—a Gift of Space.

Pay attention

to what you need to do.

Find time and space

for yourself.

Reach, yes.

Then, recognize limits.


I preserved this reminder in 36-point type, pasted on cardboard I’d painted gold. This message hangs on the wall near my father’s computer—right above the key holder packed with what must be every key in the universe.

Believe me, folks, let me know if I’m alone in this conundrum of “Is it enough already? Or, was it enough a long time ago?” Definitely give me your wisdom so we can get sane together.


Pose questions about practical creativity; give ideas for future cycle themes; and join in the dialog. See the Creative Catalyst archive at http://bit.ly/9z1BQv.  Learn more about our audio book “Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music”at http://bit.ly/aZVd1e. Become a Riehlife Villager at http://www.riehlife.com

8 responses to “8.5 Creative Enemy: Enough, already?

  1. Thank you for this post. Thank you. Over 20 years ago, my father, your brother, advised me to stop and smell the roses. He saw how The Thompson Standard had ahold of me, with my eye on the prize and my shoulder to the grindstone, and knew I needed to learn to pace myself. Well, it took me 20+ more years to learn the lesson. Now I buy myself bouquets of flowers, and spend a day in my pajamas, after a day spent running races, still trying to find the balance and rhythm for my life, both creative and otherwise. My creative enemy is the voice that whispers, “You’re not good enough. The work of your hands isn’t good enough. The world doesn’t need your voice. Why bother?” I try to push through it. I try to set it aside. I try TO DO. For THAT is The Thompson Way as well.
    ~ Janean

  2. When is enough, enough? The dictionary is of no help here, but then it often fails us. Is it enough when it is “sufficient,” or “passable?” Perhaps not. We all write to a different drummer and it seems he has to stop drumming before we recognize we’ve reached enough. Listening for that cue may be the key. It is one easy to miss.

  3. Janean, yes…that Thompson Heritage makes us strong and stubborn and focused on contributing to the good of the world. I’m glad you’ve learned to dial back and focus on your well-being.

    Arletta, you are an inspiration in the number of revisions you’ve made on your trilogy. I gasp and bow to your perseverance.

    Thanks to both of you for commenting.


  4. Great post, Janet. I have been struggling with balance. I find that this first year of working out of the home on someone else’s schedule, with a child in school, an adult child with my grandson 10 hours away and my daily commute of an hour each way is rather hectic. I want to still take care of everyone with the same level I used to, but find it nearly impossible because of my job/career choice. I need to write this out and have a discussion with my self. I love my career, I was a helicopter mom anyway and …….the rest. I am still writing, my son and I are writing stories together and reading stories together. We are having a blast. My daughter calls when she can–19 , a working mom and busy, and my husband is happy at his job. I am not sure what the problem with all of this is for me….sounds like no problem, right? ;D Anyway, thank for this post that ”hit the spot.”

  5. Janet Riehl Comment
    The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of 60 minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is

    C.S. Lewis words are a wake-up call for all of us under-achievers as well as over-achievers. Linear time is the measuring stick of physical life, and we believe there’s an end to that stick. When we expand our beliefs about time, we find that time is a flexible thought than conforms to our dreams and desires.

    Faith Baldwin, the romance novelist, said Time is a dressmaker that specializes in alterations. The alterations are our choices, and regardless of the choice our achievements (the dress) are always beautiful creations.

  6. Janet:

    You are a radiant star for posing questions that lurk in the shadows.

    Doing this or that in a mindless compulsive fashion answers the question.

    I don’t segment my life into compartments. Everything I do is my art—from feeding the birds, walking the dogs, washing the dishes, etc. This attitude has great liberating power. Establishing your own standards sets you apart for better of worse. When confronted by a higher standard, adopt it as your own.

    Art is not a burden nor does it impinge upon your life. If it does, then it’s time to reevaluate. Of all the pitfalls you may encounter, self-deception is perhaps the worse.

    What is the point of your art? Isn’t it about being in that magical, free, and timeless space of creation?

    Dig deeper. What is the endgame? It’s not a series of activities; it’s becoming your dharma. Whoever sees the dharma, sees the Buddha.

    The goal is understanding.

  7. Thanks to each of you for your wisdom. It’s wonderful to have a writing community to reach out to and to receive from.


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