The Enemy Called “Good”

“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically – to say ‘no’ to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside. The enemy of the ‘best’ is often the ‘good.’”

– Dr. Stephen Covey

This quote appeared in my inbox this morning as a “thought starter.” How appropriate to start the day thinking about priorities! There are two very important thoughts in these few sentences.

The idea of being almost obsessive with our priorities is not, of course, new. Tom Peters coined a descriptive term some years ago–a “monomaniac with a mission.” In just a few words we see the accomplishment value of one person with one mission. We’ve all seen it in action. You get one person who has real passion and purpose, get her focused and there’s really no stopping her. These people become the heroes of our society–assuming, of course, their mission is positive!

The second thought in this quote is the idea that the enemy of “best” is often “good.” How many times have we found ourselves saying something is “good enough” or “close enough?” In Maine we have a rather colorful expression to describe it.

“A blind man on a galloping horse will never notice…”

I suppose it creates perspective. But at the same time it’s really saying “that’s pretty bad. The only person who won’t notice is blind and going by pretty fast.”

While any project or passion requires practicality, we really ought to guard against the “good enough” mentality because Covey is right. Good can be the enemy of best.

Occasionally I’ll encounter an adult student who seems to merit a nickname and some gentle teasing at the start of class. “And how is my little overachiever today?” But that student knows it’s not such a bad label and it’s a bit unfortunate that our system implies over-achievers are placing too much stress on themselves. There is a balance in all of this, but I’ll take a class of over-achievers before a class of “how can I squeak by” students any day.

So we need to think about our “yes’s” and our “no’s.” And we need to be careful when we start saying “yes” to good because it might mean we are saying “no” to our best.

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