This is adapted from an essay I wrote for my church newsletter recently.
At some point during this rollercoaster/dumpster fire/goat rodeo of a pandemic summer I decided to start judging myself using the same scale that was used when I was in kindergarten. When I went to kindergarten we were graded as either O – Outstanding, S – Satisfactory, or U – Unsatisfactory. And unlike today’s climate of achievement, in my day the large majority of children were deemed Satisfactory. It was good to get an S. An S is all that anyone needed from us. A few kids got O’s, I suppose, and there were definitely one or two U’s in every class. But neither was a big deal. The O’s would move on to 1st grade along with all of us S’s – it’s not like there was a gifted program -- and the U’s would maybe just try kindergarten one more time.
And so this summer when I found myself checking in with myself, asking myself was I happy, had I gotten enough done today, was I using all this pandemic free time wisely, was I looking out for others enough, why haven’t I been to a demonstration, are you going to eat all of that, are those pajama pants, and so on, I would take a beat, abandon my reflexive, self-critical answers, and say to myself:
Today I did a satisfactory job.
Until I started this practice, I had no idea how often I checked up on myself like this, how often I acted like an overbearing, distrustful boss with myself. Giving myself an S stopped this bossy voice in its tracks. Who can be unhappy with an employee whose work is satisfactory?
I have worries and other burdens that prevent my days from being O’s right now. In fact, reading the news can take me from an O to an S within minutes of waking up! But because I have been lucky enough to avoid sickness, violence, and financial insecurity, I haven’t had any days that I would call U’s. I have only gotten S’s. And S’s are good. An S is all that anyone needs from me.
As we transition from summer to fall we face challenges. The pandemic has invaded yet another season, we’re in the middle of an election season filled with vitriol, and we’re facing the prospect of fall holiday traditions upended. School is a struggle for children and parents. And, of course, all these problems seem trivial to people suffering from Covid or struggling financially. And none of us are allowed to just quit. Our families and our communities need our helping hands, our ideas, and our caring consideration of one another. But remember, we do not have to be outstanding. We just need to get an S. S’s are good. An S is all that anyone needs from you.