Satis Est: Knowing when enough is enough

Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.


Last week I got pulled into some quick “fix-it man” service when my cousin from New Jersey found himself unable to complete his own to-do list. He got to the family beach cottage for his two-week vacation and to prepare for a bit of a family reunion. On day one of his trip, he slipped in the rain and broke his leg on the staircase leading up from the driveway to the cottage. He called me in with one of my friends to help him out.

While completing the last project on the list, which was to rebuild an ancient floodlight setup (ironically located just above the steps where my cousin took his fall), I was tightening the final screw to hold the assembly onto an electrical box affixed to the eave by not only ancient screws and paint, but rust and mold and enough unknown substances that I really didn’t want to disrupt.

That inner voice in my head reminded me to make the screw tight enough to seal the gasket between old and new, but not so tight as to strip the threads on the old box: that was the very identifiable “click” I heard verified by the easily and eternally rotating screw that now would never hold!

The point of this story is not the dramatic fix that I concocted to correct my over-exuberance (you’ll just have to talk to me to get that story), but the very common misconception of not knowing when enough is enough.

In Latin class, one of the first phrases we learned was satis est — “it is enough” — and yet to this day, the demarcation of that very moment still eludes me.

I’m reminded of that famous phrase that “Perfect (or best) is the enemy of the good.” My own turn of the screw to get one more rotation toward perfection moved what was good enough to total disaster reminding me of how often I over-purchase something. What I really need is A, but you know for only a few dollars more you can get B, which has all these extra features (no matter that I don’t know what any of those features might do nor how I might leverage them to my advantage). Why go for good when better is only a few bucks more? And if best is available, why sell myself short?!

The great philosophers would tell us that moderation is the key, yet how often we are taunted in life. Those buffets rarely say, “All you need to eat.” It’s rather, “All you CAN eat.” Well, that’s a challenge! And my waistline will tell you that more than once, I have conceded: challenge accepted.

Even when abundance is beyond dispute, more always seems better. I always remember that J.D. Rockefeller, one of the wealthiest men in the world, was asked, “How much money is enough?”

His response, comically and yet sadly, was: “Just a little bit more.”

In addition to the tangibles of life, I am keenly aware of finding the satis est in those tasks that in youth seemed so effortless. “We must be up and doing” is a motto from Benjamin Franklin and one I took early on as an edict to portion the time we have on earth. Almost every day seemed filled with all sorts of projects and activities. And each day I’d fight against the daylight’s waning, the energy to keep going and the creative flare to figure it out.

Youth made two out of those three almost inexhaustible, but later in life I’ve realized that not only do I have only so much time in a day, I’ve only got so much energy, and proportionally less creative spark. And though I’d love to create perfection, at the end of the day now I’m content with better than before, or even good enough.

As I’m writing this, a number of my contemporaries are contemplating retirement. Oh, maybe not right now, but soon . . . at least in the scheme of things. That seems to me to be the ultimate determination of when enough is enough. When have I made my mark, and when am I now scratching over it?

That cousin of mine with the broken leg happens to be a football coach. He’s one of those eying retirement. He shared with me a couple of years ago his best coaching line that he shared with his team at the start of every season: “Enjoy the struggle.”

He said if you only are going to enjoy winning, then you are going to have much more time in disappointment because most of the players’ time is in practice, weight rooms or on nights when the score tips in the other team’s direction. But he says if you can enjoy the struggle, then you will have a successful season.

I kind of think that saying goes along with a lot of life and the struggle to be perfect, to be better or just simply to be enough. After all, even Jesus says: “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

I still chase the sun each day and see what I can get done. I still churn out every bit of energy I can muster. And though my creativity wanes in life’s golden-hued latter hours, I still strive for the perfect ending to what I write.

But in the end, even if it’s not perfect, I hope it’s good enough. Either way, for now: satis est.

Pastor Zach Harris has been an ordained minister for 27 years and currently serves Ascension Lutheran Church in Wilson. His column, “Through a Lutheran Lens: A Pastor’s Perspective,” will appear regularly in The Wilson Times. Previous columns are available at WilsonTimes.com.