The two sides of “enough”

Look around you. You have a roof above your head. Electricity. Warmth. Clothes on your body. Access to tools and media. A vast array of things to entertain and distract yourself with. You have agency over how you spend your money and your time.

What more do you need? Irrelevant of your ambitions, the answer is probably “nothing.” We consistently overestimate what we need to accomplish certain ends. We need less than we think. We need less than we already have.

But this idea is just one face of the idea of “enough.” Most of us have enough to do whatever we’re trying to accomplish. 

Another way to use the word “enough” is as follows: I’ve had enough. 

The former use is concerned with gratitude, with recognising the wealth at our disposal. The latter is concerned with boundaries, with recognising the limits. It’ brings up the following questions.

How destructive and unhealthy will you allow a relationship to become before you do something? 

How much stress will you take upon yourself at work before you choose to find a new job, or evaluate your career choice?

How much pain and suffering will you endure for something or someone you love?

What will it take for you to intervene? Say you see a man threatening his girlfriend outside a bar. Do you pause, then put your head down and walk on? Do you stick around to make sure he doesn’t harm her? Do you call the police?

At what point do you allow your anger to influence you? After the slightest insult? When someone verbally threatens you? When someone physically assaults you?

When do you call it quits on a project? How much of your time, energy and money do you have to sink into a venture before you extricate yourself?

In Robert Greene’s 33 Strategies of War, he talks about exit criteria. The parameters of a situation which have to be met before you say, “enough is enough.” Before you walk away. 

The consequences of not deciding upon these criteria in advance are huge. You compromise yourself. You overextend and waste valuable resources. You cause yourself and others unnecessary pain because, in the moment, without objective standards, it’s difficult to see the boundaries. It’s almost impossible to recognise and decide upon the limit if you’re immersed in the situation.

The cost of not setting exit criteria and deciding on what “enough” is, can be low. A few extra days or weeks of stress at work. Some awkward, difficult conversations with friends or family. But they could also be stratospherically high. Not understanding your idea of enough might cause you to be passive when you should intervene. It might cause you to meet demanding situations with physical or intellectual cowardice.

Who knows what will happen? Events cannot be foretold. But the boundaries, the limits of what you will put up with? These can be decided upon in advance. And they should be if you wish to uphold the standards and ideals by which you live your life.