“… before you can figure out where you are going, you need to know where you are, and once you know and accept where you are, you can design your way to where you want to be.” — Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
“You’ve been here before. But there are some new ingredients this time. What can you tell yourself that will make you understand that now isn’t just like last year? That there’s something new this August.” My coach paused. I sighed, took a deep breath, and let her question sink in.
What could I tell myself? Honestly, I just wanted a plan from her — from someone wiser, older, and more experienced — so that everything would magically fall into place and I could finally be the happy, shiny, successful person I want to be.
Seconds went by. My mind — tired from racing all morning, all summer, or the last five years, with an anxious search for what to do next and how to get there, the place I want to be — slowed down.
Then I remembered something that had helped me over the summer. The month before our call, I’d read something that had stuck with me in Designing Your Work Life — How to Thrive and Change and Find Happiness at Work from Stanford University’s Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.
A sentence from their book felt like a lifeline thrown to me: “We have something important to say to you: Wherever you are in your work life, whatever job you are doing, it’s good enough. For now. Not forever. For now.”
Allowing yourself to believe that things are good enough for now simply means choosing a perspective that is more empowering for us. It lets us go from feeling victimized or judging to feeling more in control. The idea is that we get unstuck by first accepting the situation we’re in.
As I remembered this book in the coaching call, a thought occurred to me: “What if what I can tell myself is that I accept where I am now this August and that my work life is good enough for now? Not forever, but for now.”
How to adopt the “Good enough for now” point of view for yourself
We’ve all heard the advice to just make the best of a bad situation. That´s not bad advice, but if you only make the best of a bad situation, you are still in a bad situation. It doesn’t get to the root of the problem or offer an opportunity to change the situation. You’re more cheerfully navigating lousiness, which is an improvement, but not much of one and rather hard to sustain over time.” — Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
Choosing the reframe of Good enough for now is the most important way you can feel happier at work right now, according to Burnett at Evans. Because, as they write: “…when you think like a designer, you always have a choice.”
Believing that you have a choice opens up opportunities that you might not know yet. It “… puts you in control of what you need in life and what you want to choose to invite into your life.” You can see that there are more options than for example only staying and being miserable, or going and not knowing what’s next.
This might still sound vague, so let’s break down the process, which the designers call “building your way forward” into actionable steps you can start taking today.
Getting things down on paper can help you start. So first, write down your challenge, bottom-lining what is making it difficult for you and why it is important to you now. Then follow this strategy, using pen and paper if it helps you think:
First, choose to accept the situation you’re in. Designers always start by accepting the reality of what is at hand. This means that you leave out judgment. Instead, you just state as objectively as you can what is going on. This takes us out of being stuck in negative thoughts, which makes it hard to have perspective and instead keeps us in negative tunnel vision.
Now, look for a reframe. Start with good enough for now. Notice how that makes you feel in your body. Tell yourself until you believe it that whatever is happening is good enough for now. Not forever, but now. You can even write it down on a piece of paper and breathe it in a few times, almost like a mantra, if you want to.
Once you have this sense of good enough for now and you let yourself believe it, you can also choose a reframe that is more specific to your challenge. For example, if you are feeling undervalued at work and your perspective of “I need to use and be recognized for all my new skills in my job” is making you miserable and want to quit, try to find another perspective that is possible. For example, “At work, I can be around people I can learn from and use a little of my new skills when I can.”
Then, get out of your head and go do something based on your reframe. Use the designer mindset of having a bias to action to try something out — to build a prototype that you can learn from. The new perspective from the point above is your starting point to start designing experiences that will support that new perspective. This means that you identify something in your job situation that can be of value to you or your workplace, and then take action. For example, send an email to two or three colleagues at work that you want to learn something from to meet for a coffee or chat.
Set the bar low here, and choose small actions you can take. When at work, you focus your attention on them. Let’s say you’re feeling disconnected from people at work, so you write down a list of people at work you can stop by to say hi to each day in the morning or invite for lunch. If you’re feeling unmotivated and have little energy, give yourself a daily energy break where you leave the building and go for a walk, treating yourself to a good coffee.
Creating the habit of reframing every day
“We’re not discontented kids in the backseat of the family minivan, but how many of us live our lives, especially our work lives, as if we are?” — Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
For me, choosing the “good enough for me” perspective is something I have to do every day, many times a day. It’s not a one-time fix. Am I failing? Maybe a little bit, but I like to think of it more as building muscle.
This way, every time the fearful negative voice comes back and I tell myself that “it’s okay, I hear you, it’s good enough for now,” that muscle gets stronger. Hopefully, reframing will become so natural for me that it will become a habit and not a technique anymore.
It’s so easy to get stuck in judging the situation we’re in, other people, or ourselves. This is maybe especially hard when it’s something as important as work and career. Instead of acknowledging how far we’ve come, we compare ourselves with others.
The irony is that the stories we tell ourselves about where we are and want to be can stop us from improving our situation. The reason is that we can get stuck in negative thinking, making us lose confidence, energy, and momentum. Or as Burnett and Evans put it: “The truth is, when we live our lives waiting to get somewhere, the only place we get is stuck.”
If you feel stuck in some area of your life too, you’re not alone. We pick up from society and people around us the idea that enough is never enough, and that good is never good enough.
Instead, we’re told — and tell ourselves — that we want more. More money, more opportunities, more friends, more degrees, and even, as Burnett and Evans say, more peace and mindfulness.
For many of us, this wanting more has become so normal to us that we might call it a habit, one we don’t even notice — and one that is making it hard to be content and feel in control here and now.
Stepping out of “not-there-yet-ness”
This mindset creates what the two authors call a constant sense of “not-there-yet-ness” where we allow this “never-enough, wanting-more, not-good-enough mindset to ruin just about anything in life.”
For me, this sense of “not-there-yet-ness was starting to ruin my career aspirations and my ability to feel contentment and happiness in my life—even though I have lots to be grateful for. So the questions from my coach came just at the right time.
Using it is good enough for now as a mantra this past week has inspired me to apply it to other situations besides work too. As I’ve just started doing pilates, I’m still struggling with many exercises. My push-ups are ridiculous and the breaks frequent.
But instead of putting myself down for not looking or being as strong and flexible as the instructors, I’ve told myself that it is good enough—making me feel more motivated to continue and happier.
This simple reframe is not only simple to do and can support us to create change in our lives, but it is also something that makes us feel more grateful and mindful of what is already going well in our life.
We could easily fail to see what is actually good in our lives if we’re stuck in discontentedness—basically missing out on our own life—because we’re feeling like we’re not there yet and instead waiting to arrive at a place where we can be happy.
If you feel like you’re stuck in your career or at work, the reframe of good enough, for now, might be valuable, so just go ahead and try it out right now.
And while you’re playing with this, why not think of other areas of your life too, like your relationships, where you live, even your writing, and see if you can feel a shift?