Friday, October 3, 2008


My mind is finally starting to wake up. It feels like it will be a slow process with this self-absorbed recovery process still commanding a lion’s share of attention, but yesterday’s post at least did get me thinking again about an issue that I have been puzzling about for quite a while: the concept of “enoughness.” The catalyst was writing about one of Shea’s really fine qualities, that she stops when she is full, no matter how good something is or what she is leaving uneaten. That is a form of “enoughness” and it is a powerful and important quality.

The idea of “enoughness” and what it means and how to think about it began to interest me through teaching law and business students. Many of the ethical problems that come up in their lives do so when everything in the environment is measured by money. Yet what draws a lot of students to law school is the desire to make the world better, work for justice, etc. Yes, the desire to have a prestigious, well-paying career is a draw as well, but a remarkable number at least start out idealistically. There is interesting research out there about how law school changes people, not in a positive way, and a fascinating movement among a group of law professors to humanize legal education to help students retain a sense of balance and mission throughout their careers, instead of becoming one of the statistics that make lawyers among the unhappiest, most substance-abusing, most-divorced (and so on) professionals around.

Anyway, a perennial topic in my negotiation course when discussing exercises that raise core questions about each person’s own conduct as a negotiator is managing your money in a way that permits you to walk away from a job if you feel compromised ethically. Many—but by no means all—students cross ethical lines in some of these exercises, which they explain by saying it felt like their obligation to the client, or they knew they wouldn’t look good if they didn’t. (Really.)

An important question I ask during this discussion is whether students want to become the “go-to” person for cutting corners or the person about whom it is said “Oh, don’t ask her, she’d never do that.” That kind of reputation starts at the interview, on the first day, etc: what set of core values are they projecting and what do they seek in their colleagues and supervisors? This is closely related to my ethics lesson on the critical importance of choosing colleagues and supervisors for their character. Anyway, back to the money-managing point, one random piece of advice I always give is to consider sending automatically to savings half of every raise that comes along, and only letting your standard of living/spending escalate by the other half. When you are asked to do something ethically compromising, it is much harder to say no if it means that your mortgage or your children’s tuition might go unpaid.

There’s a seductive trap that young lawyers can fall into of excessive spending because those who go to large law firms work so many hours early in their careers. It can be enticing to spend money on yourself as a form of compensation for not having a life—a feeling of being entitled to toys and fun things because you have so little time. Given the large sums that slosh around in the system for some of these students (last year, starting salaries at the top law firms were around $160,000/year and some include end-of-year bonuses as well), how to develop a sense of proportion?

To cut to the chase, how much money is enough? How much recognition? How much status? How do you recognize enough? How do you achieve balance in your life among your values, including being good at your job and having a satisfying personal life? Before my current adventure started, I was raising this topic with people I ran across because it was on my mind. Elizabeth suggested that maybe the question to ask is “Why more?” She points out that one possible answer is “Because there is more. Why should you have ONLY enough, even if it is enough, if someone else has more or is going for more? There’s a powerful sense that his more will eat away from your more. You have to be at least a little bit greedy to protect yourself from someone else’s greed. Given an ecology of scarcity, only too much is ever enough. Which is why Americans get fat!”

While I started thinking about this in terms of money and tangible “stuff,” the concept is broader. I grapple with it, for example, as retirement looms on my horizon. We have a really good life and we have enough money and enough stuff. We feel fortunate and content in the balance of our lives. We have a great quality of life and live according to a set of values that we believe in. We are incredibly fortunate in our human connections from our family through all of our friends. But how much mattering is enough? How much making a contribution? This medical adventure has not diminished our appreciation of the good fortune of our lives, indeed it has reinforced that sense. At the same time, it increases the intensity of some of the other questions, which also revolve around “enoughness.”

Enoughness raises practical questions well as philosophical ones. So far, the topic has been a slippery and elusive one for me. I continue to think that the idea is important for professionals at the beginnings of their careers. For that matter, it is probably important to people at all stages of their careers. The question is how to get at it in a tangible, useful kind of way. The concept must relate in a fundamental way to some of the social psychology research on happiness and emotional intelligence and maybe even Carol Dweck’s work on motivation, though I have not yet found the right connection or traction point. If any of you have thoughts on enoughness and thinking about it, I’d love to hear them.

Today brings occupational therapy and grading papers. And resting in my new tortoise-incarnation. I hope to have enough energy by late afternoon to go to a retirement celebration. If you’re feeling great today, stop and appreciate your good health, your family and your good friends. Happy Friday.

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