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When good enough is enough, and why feedback is not a gift
It should be enough to be “good enough”. We’re inundated with the pressure to achieve, to surpass, to crush it — but is it always worth it?
Three weeks ago I resumed running after a hiatus of eight years. To be clear, I’ve never enjoyed it. No matter how much I ran, I could never get that mythical runner’s high. Research says it might have something to do with the lack of μ-opioid receptors in my brain. Pain in my right knee and in my lower back, the latter caused by a slipped L4/L5 disc, don’t make running any easier.
In those three weeks I slashed my 1km time from miserable 6’43”, to barely acceptable 6’15”, then to passable 5’37”. While it’s certainly progress, every second of my last run was just as painful as every second of my first. I’ve reached the limit of how much pain I can tolerate, and I see no reason to improve my time or distance.
Running faster or longer won’t make any more difference, because my goal is not to be a better runner, hell no. My goal is to stress the body just enough to extend my lifespan and active years. A little bit of pain now is better than a whole lot of it later.
Our bias for absolute excellence makes us forget that persevering and getting to a passable level at something that we hate, or simply have no talent in, requires massive mental effort. In these three weeks of pushing myself almost daily, I gained an enormous amount of respect towards people who work their ass off at becoming good enough — and have the self-awareness to stop when the effort is no longer worth it.
But there’s more to it. When someone “meets most” of the expectations at work, do we think of where they came from? How much effort did it take them to get to that barely good enough level? Is being good enough sufficient for them? It’s rare that we ask these questions. Instead, we often see the person as deficient. So, we “provide feedback”.
That brings me to my last point: the biggest problem with feedback is that instead of empowering us to reach our goals, its purpose is often to make us comply with external expectations which have nothing in common with our ideas of a fulfilling life.
I can't live a day without hearing another tech bro proselytizing how "feedback is a gift". Occasionally, that is true. But usually those “gifts” of feedback aren’t better than cheap trinkets that your aunt picked up on sale at a regional airport’s duty free — and now she desperately wants to offload them on you, expecting smiles and gratitude in return.
When giving feedback, we must fight the urge to project our value systems on others. When receiving it, we must have the discipline to examine carefully whether that feedback serves us. Real, useful feedback is not a gift. It’s hard work.
After I reached 6’00” per kilometer, I read several Reddit threads discussing whether that’s an acceptable running pace. Most of those discussions were full of improvement tips, and not a single one asked the original poster about their goal. There was a ton of actionable feedback that had very little value.