Good Enough

On a rare sleepless night earlier this week, I layed in bed for two hours, staring at the ceiling, wide-eyed. Realizing I wasn’t going to get any sleep, I decided to start a project I’d always wanted to start: I would install Arch Linux on my laptop. I’ve run Linux as my primary OS for some six years now, but I’ve run the easy version that does all the heavy lifting for you: Ubuntu. I wanted to dig deeper into my system to learn what makes it tick.

Arch Linux was perfect for that. For the unfamiliar, Ubuntu and Arch Linux are two vastly different variations of Linux. Putting Ubuntu on a PC is like taking your used car to a mechanic and telling him to replace everything: engine, seats, radio. You’ll be back in a week to pick up your reinvigorated ride.

Arch Linux, however, is like building the entire damn car from scratch. You have a shell (the car’s frame), but that’s it. The installation process is difficult enough (took me three tries- thanks, UEFI) but even after you get it installed, there’s no window manager, no desktop environment, no network or file manager, no nothing. You build it all.

One particular environment I had always wanted to try out was Openbox, a ridiculously minimal and lightweight window manager that can also be run as a standalone window manager (meaning there’s no need for a full-fledged desktop environment). There are no effects, no panels, no compositing, no launcher, no application menu. Openbox is about as minimal as it gets.

For three days, I experimented with different setups: I added compositing, installed a dock, tweaked the workspace setup, tested different browsers. I did a lot of this.

On Friday, I realized with a bit of guilt that I hadn’t done much work in the three days since I’d started tweaking my setup. But I had such a great setup!

Frustrated with that realization, I took a small break, ate some lunch, and worked out, deciding I needed to come back and look at the situation with clear eyes (knowing full well what would happen when I came back to the screen).

When I sat back down at my desk two hours later, I confirmed my fear: I’d wasted the better part of three days. None of this had been necessary. I didn’t even want to tweak any more- I just wanted to get some work done. So, I installed Gnome 3, a fully-functional setup from the start, and got to work. And it felt good. The system wasn’t precisely to my liking, but it was damn good. It was good enough.

My daughter, now nine years old, is going through some growing pains with schoolwork, thanks to a more strenuous workload. Not long ago, we finished her first big project. By the time we’d finished, I was terrified of the results. She’d worked hard on the project, but she’d cut corners. I tried to explain how to take good notes: jot down key words and concepts-never full sentences-and reconstruct them later.

All week, she ignored my advice, and copied full sentences directly from Wikipedia. She wrote without even taking notes, in fact, forming full paragraphs after merely skimming the Wikipedia entry.

The result, in my mind, was that she didn’t know enough of the material. She hadn’t been forced to recreate her research in her own words; she was merely transferring them from the screen to the page bypassing her own mind altogether. Because of that, I worried about her final grade (not the grade itself, mind you, but the impact a poor grade would have on her psyche).

She got a perfect score.

I’d been worried for nothing. In the process of worrying, of pushing her to nail the process of research, I’d forgotten that she’s nine years old. It’s one of my greatest shortcomings as a father. I have a lifehacker mentality: I want to improve things. All the things. Even myself.

I wake up every day wondering how to make myself better, how to make my system better, how to make my workflow better.

In a way, I’ve been trying to make my daughter better, too. Isn’t that the point of being a parent? To teach your child how to live? To prepare them for life to the fullest extent possible?

Well, no, not really. That’s part of it, of course, but it’s the tomorrow part. For a guy that claims to have such a zen-like focus on the present, I was certainly spending a lot of time ignoring today. The truth is, today is good enough. My setup is good enough. And, there can be no question, my daughter is good enough. She’s not one of my projects; she’s a person who’s learning to navigate her reality, not mine.

Good enough gets a bad rap. It implies a lesser quality, has a whiff of inferiority about it.

The truth is, though, everything is good enough. The spatula you want to replace is good enough to make eggs. The weather is good enough to toss a ball around with your son. Your coffee and your garden and your waistline are good enough. Your setup is good enough to get some work done. You are good enough.

And existence is good enough. Hell, we live, quite literally, in the most bountiful place in the most bountiful time that we aware of. The vastness that limits that awareness only serves to bolster the sense of wonder we must feel when we ponder our reality. And that reality contains many grains of sand and many great truths, all of which are good enough.

And yet, all is flawed, and that’s okay, because good enough doesn’t speak to the quality of the thing it’s directly referring to; it speaks to the quality of the thing you can be doing, to the quality of life you can be living once you accept things as good enough. It’s a recognition of the inherent fallibility of life, of the imperfect nature of things. Good enough is the vehicle through which we make great things: books and poems and meals and moments. In one of the greatest ironies, once “good enough” is good enough, the world will reveal its greatness.

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