#20 – It’s ok to be “Good Enough”

This is #20 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another one I keep going back to.

The following passage is from an article by Jennifer Kunst in which she provides a compelling interpretation of Donald Winnicott’s theory of the “good enough mother.” As you read it I invite you to do so in a way that allows it to speak to the identity with which you most associate. As needed, replace “mother” with father, boss, leader, teacher, etc.

“What I like about Winnicott’s picture of the good enough mother is that she is a three-dimensional human being. She is a mother under pressure and strain. She is full of ambivalence about being a mother. She is both selfless and self-interested. She turns toward her child and turns away from him. She is capable of great dedication yet she is also prone to resentment. Winnicott even dares to say that the good enough mother loves her child but also has room to hate him. She is not boundless. She is real.”

I cannot read this without being flooded with empathy for all of us who struggle with the pressure to be certain, to be right, to be perfect. We would be better off – far better off – if we were able to collectively let go of the myths that keep us small in favor of a more accurate accounting of the common humanity that serves to enlarge and enliven us.

According to Winnicott’s theory, “The good-enough mother…starts off with an almost complete adaptation to her infant’s needs, and as time proceeds she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant’s growing ability to deal with her failure” (Winnicott, 1953).

The “good enough mother” creates enough distance from her child, thoughtfully and over time, to allow the child to find its own way. By doing so she creates the conditions for differentiation and independence and problem solving skills and resilience. She creates the conditions in which a child can learn how to be among those who thrive in the face of uncertainty, making meaningful contributions to society squarely in the face of the unknown.

It must be for this reason that James Michener once wrote: “I have recently decided that the constructive work of the world is done by an appallingly small percentage of the population….Those men and women who do have the energy to form new constructs and new ways to implement them must do the work of many. I believe it to be an honorable aspiration to want to be among the creators.”

As mother, father, boss, leader or teacher you have acted on your aspiration to be “among the creators” and you are striving to have lasting impact in the face of challenges and changes too numerous to mention. Your contribution to those you serve, then, will best be measured by the ability you cultivate in them to stand in the midst of uncertainty on their own two feet. Propping them up or protecting them from failure only serves to ensure that they will one day join the large percentage Michener describes instead of being a vital force in the “constructive work of the world.”

“Good enough” is much more than good enough. It is how we equip those we love and those we serve to be a force for good in the world.

assorted color great board decor lot

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

Unique Human Needs: Contribution

I am energized to spend this week reflecting on Tony Robbins’ list of unique human needs. Here’s the list in its entirety followed by a brief reflection on the quality of “Contribution.”

Unique Human Needs

1. Certainty: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
2. Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change, new stimuli
3. Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
4. Connection/Love: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
5. Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
6. Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others

Part 6: Contribution

One of my clearest childhood memories is of riding along with my mom as she delivered food to the elderly and shut-ins in San Francisco as part of her volunteer commitment to Meals-On-Wheels. I remember that one of our stops was adjacent to a market from which I always got a few cellophane-wrapped sesame candies. I remember the smell of the food as not exactly enticing but certainly distinctive. I remember feeling purposeful, that we were doing something important.

Thirty years later I was looking for a way to engage my 6-year-old son and our family in some community service and I came across a Meals-On-Wheels flyer at our church. Those memories of Saturday mornings along 19th Avenue in San Francisco came rushing back and I saw the gift of being able to establish that same tradition with my own child.

I’m proud of the fact that we’re still making those deliveries thirteen years later. Duncan is off to college now and his sisters have since taken his place as co-pilot and navigator. It’s a Berry Family “thing,” a small but important piece of fabric that binds us to one another and to our community.

Tony Robbins classifies the core human needs of growth and contribution as the “needs of the spirit.” What I can’t stop thinking about regarding this final installment on contribution is that it carries within it the possibility of satisfying all of the other needs as well.

To make a contribution is to experience the pleasure of helping others avoid pain, or at least to alleviate it just a little bit.

It is also the manner by which we can immerse ourselves in new circumstances and conditions in order to satisfy our need for uncertainty.

Giving back is clearly a way to feel special and needed, and what better way to achieve that than in service of others?

It is also a means for us to satisfy our need for connection and to express love. To make even a small sacrifice so that another person’s life might be better is a pretty good definition of the everyday goodness of love when you think about it.

In addition to satisfying these core needs there are some other very real rewards of giving back. Among them are happiness, good health, cooperation and gratitude.

It may feel out of place to think of making a contribution as personally rewarding, that we should only give from a place of self-sacrificial concern. But that intention is so idealistic that it becomes restrictive.

What if we could just agree that making a contribution, giving of ourselves freely and generously is the most potent and compelling way to satisfy the needs that we all share?



The bees set up shop under a piece of plywood on the side of our home. At first I thought it was just a swarm that would move through quickly enough. As they lingered, I got curious and found them hard at work.

I don’t love the idea of a beehive so close to the house. My first inclination was to get rid of it. But we decided to wait and see what would happen and, so far so good.

Here’s what I’ve noticed: they don’t mind having me around. They go about their business and I go about mine.

They value family, hard work and making a contribution to something that is much, much larger than themselves. If I can play a small part in supporting that value system, I will only be the better for it.