If you can’t be great, be good

There was a young woman on the rowing machine at the gym wearing a T-shirt with “Good is the enemy of great” on the back.

The full quote is from Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t,” and is an exhortation to keep pushing, keep striving, to not settle for “good” when “great” is possible.

It’s also bunk.

It makes more sense if the enemy is “good enough,” with its potential connotation of willingly stopping when there’s much more to achieve, of settling, but the real enemy of greatness is being poor at something.

“Good” is an accomplishment. Is it all one can be? For some people, maybe not, but at its worst, it’s a way station on the way to greatness, or a place to land if greatness is beyond one’s ability or motivation.

I prefer “The perfect is the enemy of the good,” attributed to Voltaire. As I read it, the message is to not get so hung up on being perfect that you get nothing accomplished. As a lifelong perfectionist, I’ve had to learn this one the hard way.

But beyond what is the true enemy of greatness, it sends the same kind of all-or-nothing message as two of my other least-favorite messages.

“Failure is not an option” — Failure may not be the goal. Failure may not be the choice we’d make, but failure is always an option. Unless you literally never try do anything in life, there is always the possibility of failing.

“Refuse to lose” — I know it means giving the maximum effort to win, no matter the adversity, but losing it not something you can refuse like it’s a beer at the bar when you don’t drink.

I saw a variation of this a couple years ago at a baseball game when I saw a kid wearing a T-shirt that said “Losing? Never heard of it.”

That literally cannot be true, if only because he was at baseball game, which meant he was going to be seeing someone lose unless he left early. I also assume he was capable of reading his own T-shirt.

We should always push ourselves to be the best we can be, to be great, to succeed, to win, but sometimes we’re going to fail.

Sometimes, we are going to lose.

And sometimes, the best we can be is good.


2 thoughts on “If you can’t be great, be good

  1. Pingback: My favorites of 2019, so far – A Silly Place

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