Today, in this week’s installment of my series dedicated to sharing some things I’ve found that help me to feel a little more comfortable when Im having a Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad, No Good Day, I am excited to be featuring once again the fabulous Michelle Russell, of Practice Makes Imperfect. She discusses what is quickly becoming one of my most helpful coping/coaching techniques, which is learning how to discover and live “enoughness” in all the different aspects of our lives. So welcome, Michelle!
I know you’ve done a lot of work as a professional organizer, editor, etc. Did the “perfection” required in those kind of jobs help spark the creation/birth of the concept of “enoughness” for you? Or was it something else?
Those areas of work weren’t the spark, but they were definitely part of the fuel that kept the fire burning once it was lit. Especially the professional organizing—when clients are paying you to help solve their problems, you have to stay focused on the specific outcomes they want. So I had to learn to get past my own love of organizing (yep, I’m weird that way) to get to the core of what would be enough to satisfy my clients. They were always satisfied with so much less than what I wanted to do! Fantastic teachers of enoughness. 🙂
What really sparked my realization that I’m an “enoughist,” though, was a lot of musing about a whole constellation of loosely related ideas and ideals—things like minimalism and voluntary simplicity, concern for the environment, my geeky love of organizing, the exponentially rising pace of technological change, the tyranny of choice we’re faced with as consumers, the relentless barrage of media we’re exposed to, the importance of getting “grounded” in our bodies, and the high value of present-moment awareness. I sensed that these things were all meant to be part of my work, but I couldn’t figure out how to connect the dots.
Then one day it hit me. Yep, in one split second, like the proverbial lightning bolt. All these issues deal with knowing when to say either “enough’s enough, already” or “wait, I don’t have enough of this.”
What is it about “enoughness” that so excites and inspires you?
It’s such an overall solution to so many problems at once! Let’s take one small example. A woman—let’s call her Cherie—is a mid-level manager, working mom, and general high achiever. She wishes she had more time for her husband and kids. She wants to eat healthier food and lose some weight. She feels guilty about the expensive gym membership she’s barely using. She also feels bad about her environmental footprint, but she just doesn’t have the time to bike or take the bus instead of drive, make trips to the local food co-op, do her own cooking, etc. She wishes she had time to just relax occasionally. She desperately wants some sense of control over her life.
When Cherie finally stops and takes the time to assess her situation, she realizes she can make a few small changes without much effort. But these changes can add up to a LOT. Let’s take just one example—coffee. Cherie realizes that making her own coffee in the morning actually takes less time than standing in line at Starbucks. She can do something different and feel equally satisfied; her own coffee is good enough. That one tiny decision can result in a whole cluster of positive results, such as these:
- Buying coffee in bulk saves Cherie a whole lot of money over time.
- She buys her own travel mug (or even better, dusts off the one that’s been gathering dust on top of the fridge), so right there, that’s about 300 less disposable cups used and tossed per year.
- Morning coffee-making becomes a small ritual, which is a lot more pleasant than standing impatiently in line waiting for the barrista to catch up with all the customers’ orders. She’d much rather stand and watch the birds eat from the feeder in their backyard tree.
- Cherie is able to leave the house a few minutes later in the mornings, so now she gets to help her two daughters pick out their clothes for the day. Intimate and fun bonding time.
- She discovers a brand of organically grown, fair trade coffee that she really likes. Now she’s helping out real individuals, not huge multinational corporate entities, while enjoying her daily cup o’joe.
- A few of her work colleagues notice her travel mug and get inspired to start bringing in their own coffee. That’s now well over 1,000 less paper cups headed for the landfill each year, because of just a few people and one small change.
- One of those colleagues is on her firm’s Green Committee. He decides to find out whether there’s room in next year’s budget to purchase travel mugs for all company employees across the country. The financial upside is that after this one-time expense, the cost of break room supplies would be reduced. Good for the planet, good for the company.
- Maybe Cheri’s office even starts sourcing organic coffee . . .
You get the idea. Tiny changes can have massive effects over time without much in the way of extra effort. And Cherie herself feels calmer, saves money, gets more time with her kids, and drinks better-tasting coffee. All from one very tiny distinction about what is enough for her and what is unnecessary. She likes the results of that little experiment so much that she decides it’s time for another one. Maybe she can ditch the gym membership and take some short nightly walks with her husband? It would be nice to have more time to connect . . .
How would you describe your definition of “enoughness” ?
I’d define enoughness as the level at which you feel satisfied but not overburdened.
But that needs to be coupled with an understanding of what I mean by “satisfied.” For a whole variety of reasons, we’ve been conditioned to associate pleasure with so-called “peak experiences,” so that in essence we’ve become adrenaline junkies—it gets harder and harder for us to experience pleasure unless it’s constantly increasing in intensity. This is one of the reasons why so many of us feel jaded, empty, and depressed these days. We need to re-learn how to experience life’s simple pleasures again, and how to feel satisfied and empowered by moving toward our goals in small incremental steps.
So—reaching for a definition that’s not too wordy—I would say that enoughness is the level at which you feel satisfied in a calm, solid, non-adrenaline-fueled way, while steadily pursuing your important goals without feeling overburdened by what’s in your life.
That might not pass muster within rigorous academic or scientific circles, but it’s good enough for now. 🙂
Have you found any kind of relationship between being able to arrive at “enoughness”, either by yourself or with your clients, and “soothing”?
Ohhhh, yes. Yes, yes, yes!!! Absolutely. There are two things my clients tend to experience as a result of our work together—clarity and relief. This can take many forms, but in a nutshell, you feel a tremendous amount of relief once you’re able to see all of your commitments and goals clearly in one place, possibly for the first time ever. And that’s before you even start actually doing any of them.
Then it gets even better when you start chipping away at all the excess in your life. Many people are afraid of the whole concept of minimalism or voluntary simplicity because it carries connotations of lack, poverty, doing without. But that’s not what it’s about at all. (It’s also why I prefer the term “enoughism” to “minimalism.”) It’s about deciding what is truly important to you, and making room for more of it. You do this by figuring out which things in your life you honestly want for yourself, and which you’ve been viewing as requirements because our society, or maybe someone specific, told you that you should care about them. And gradually, bit by bit, you start getting rid of the latter. Shedding the “shoulds.”
I’m not saying this is an easy process. It takes a lot of introspection, and sometimes a letting-go process that feels frightening at first. But the more you start to live out of your own decisions about what’s important, the more profoundly soothing and nourishing your daily life becomes. There’s nothing more satisfying, and deeply, deeply restorative than expressing your authentic self.
Are there any particular tools you’ve found that particularly help with cultivating “enoughness” for yourself or your clients?
One of the coolest new tools I’m using is The ImageCenter from a company called VisualsSpeak. I’m one of the charter members of this program, which uses the Internet for long-distance coaching sessions. Together, my client and I decide on a key question aimed at the heart of whatever result they’re looking for. The client then uses that question as a prompt for quickly constructing a collage of pictures in answer. We are often mutually astounded—in good ways!—by what the process reveals.
(Important Interruption: I have had one of these sessions with Michelle, and it was freaking AMAZING! I’m still feeling little ripples of discovery, even though it’s been a month or so since our session.)
Using images is incredibly powerful because it engages the whole brain—not just the analytical, thinky-mind side, but the deeper, more intuitive and creative side, too. The ImageCenter helps my clients do things like hone in on their personal values, understand the stories they’ve been telling themselves, discover what’s blocking them, and more by bypassing the more usual left-brain, verbal approach and dipping into the unconscious, which is just itching to have its say. The results I’ve seen so far with the ImageCenter are amazing. I’m encouraging all my clients to try it out at least once.
Do you have anything new coming up that you’d like to talk about here?
I do! I’ve spent the last handful of months simmering with the whole concept of enoughness, letting it all bubble and stew inside of me. Now I’m ready to start blogging regularly again. By the time you post this interview, I should have a nifty little e-gift ready for anyone who signs up for my e-mail list through the blog. Soon to come—a monthly newsletter with subscriber-only content.
Also in the works—and this is the first place I’m announcing it publicly, so there you go—is a kind of enoughness manifesto. Except that I’ll be calling it a “messifesto.” 🙂 It should be available on my blog within a matter of weeks, and will be free of charge for anyone to download, print, and share.
Thanks, Jenny—you ask great questions, and this all feels like an excellent lead-in to all the things I’m going to be doing over at PracticeMakesImperfect.com, so it worked as a great prompt for me to sum up some of my own thinking. Not to mention that it was just plain fun!