Don’t Be Good

Jun 7, 2014 by

“Good is the enemy of great.”

– Jim Collins


          Over drinks on Thursday night, after summing up The Happiness Experiment and why I started it (to take initiative to change my previously shitty life), I got some insight into someone else’s story. Different from me, he didn’t hate the way his life used to be. He assured me that it was good – just good. He didn’t want good. He explained that he had been an overachiever throughout most of his life, and he didn’t love where it had led him. Instead of settling for what was merely good, he quit his job, took a one-month teaching course, and left Canada for Korea, where he taught for two years before travelling Asia. He plans on going back to Asia this fall and later spending a year in both Europe (where he’s travelled for six weeks before) and South America.

          In telling me this, he mentioned the quote above. I had heard it before, but never liked it. Hearing it again within the context of this conversation allowed me to reinterpret it, and I found myself in awe of its meaning. I used to dislike it because I framed it as the opposite of Voltaire’s quote, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Where as Voltaire’s words encourage finding happiness in what is less than perfect, Collins’ words seemed to me to promote perfection by insinuating a constant need to be better. That’s a lot of pressure. I’m happy because I enjoy and appreciate my life. As a recovering perfectionist, I avoid quotes that I feel imply that I should be dissatisfied with my currently happy lifestyle and nag me to constantly one-up myself. This quote used to fall into that category.

          However, on Thursday, when discussed with someone who did leave good behind for great, I understood it differently. If you choose to hear it the way he did, its message is to forgo the comfort of what is good for the uncertainty of what is great. It is about deciding what you want out of your life, and going for it. It is about refusing to situate yourself in a state of mere contentment, just shy of true happiness, in favour of convenience. It is about going after what you’re afraid you can’t have. It is very happiness-experiment-esque.

          By uncovering all of the meanings behind it that I missed, I realize that I used to be defensive toward this quote because I internalized it, as if was directed at me. It’s not directed at people like me. My life is already great, and it will continue to be; because the moment I feel that it is anything less than happy, I will change it. This quote is meant for anyone who needs to be reminded that we are our own limits. If you choose to cap your life at good, it will be good – just good. By contrast, if you decide that good is not good enough and use that mentality as your motivation to risk what is good for what is great, your life will be happy.

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