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.
to what you need to do.
Find time and space
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