In her book Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, the marvelous Anne Lamott tells of a friend whose morning prayer is “Whatever,” and whose evening prayer is “Oh, well.” That tidily sums up my feelings about each school year. Last Friday, I watched several of my former students receive their R. N. pins. Those students and many others also received degrees at graduation later that evening. As I watched them cross the stage, I wondered “Did I teach them enough? Did I teach them the right things? Did I give it my best?”
How much is enough?
How much is enough, anyway? While some of us may insist it ain’t so, citing shameful vignettes from our misspent youths, we educators ended up here because, by and large, we always did more than enough. We wanted the gold stars in grade school, the valedictory stole in high school, and the sterling GPA in college. Now we’re the ones holding the laser pointers, still wondering if our performance is going to cut it. Our institution has built-in reminders that we had better be up to snuff. (Yes, I’m talking about you, Perfomance Planning and Evaluation…and you, too, nasty Promotion Notebook.) I’m really not so much different from my students who plaintively ask, “How much of this do we need to know for the test?”
I wonder if I should tell them the real answer: However much they learn, the day will come when they’ll wish they had learned more.
It’s never enough
“It’s never enough” became a tag line around our house when my sons were teenagers and conversed primarily in dialogue from Adam Sandler movies. One day I had asked my younger son to do one too many odious tasks…probably something like take out the trash AND set the table…and he replied, “It’s never enough, is it Mom? It’s just never enough.” We still tease each other with that line.
Last week an alum of our college, a promising young film director, Aaron Carew, visited our campuses as commencement speaker. He treated us to a screening of his stunning short film, A Final Gift, and participated in discussion afterward. I honestly could not imagine how the film could be improved, but Mr. Carew said that while he’s watched it a thousand times and edited it over and over, there are parts that make him cringe.
It’s never enough.
Was Mary Poppins right?
This summer, while I could be enjoying another stroll down the beach in search of sea glass, another dip in the pool, another spin on my bike, I may find myself sitting at this very keyboard trolling for the perfect video clip to clarify a challenging topic. I might design, or redesign, a graphic organizer for that darn chapter on tissue types. I may dream up some new prompts for my student anatomy advice column blog. If I do, I may miss seeing the dolphins or the sea turtles—what a shame.
I sometimes worry a little about those students who never miss a question and still grab all the bonus points “just in case.” While I admire their diligence, I wonder what other aspects of life they may be missing while they do all that work. (Maybe I see a bit of my younger self who should have shut the book and gone to the party…but then I might not be here today.) Those students are headed for successful, rewarding careers, and they will share the results of their efforts with others. But I hope the pleasure of the accomplishment is not diminished by the habit of thinking “It’s never enough.”
I saw Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins with my family in 1964, and I can still hear Julie Andrews’ crisp, no-nonsense delivery of the best line in the movie: “Enough is as good as a feast.” I’m starting to believe she was right!
How do YOU decide how much is enough? Is there such a thing? Is enough sometimes too much?