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Cultivating Adequacy?

Last week, I read a poignant article in the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled In Praise of Adequacy by Rachel Judith Weil, a professor of history at Cornell. As I read it, I wondered how our community- one that celebrates excellence and works to develop outstanding women- would respond if we were to embrace adequacy.

The author defines adequacy as “having achieved the basic preconditions for participating in an activity without ruining for others.” To me, this makes sense in many ways; I’d like to believe that we want our girls to acquire the skills and abilities to take part in the activities and classes they wish. Ultimately, we want our girls to have a metaphorical tool-box filled with skills, knowledge, and learning that affords them a breadth of opportunities.

And yet, I kept wondering about people’s perceptions about being ‘adequate.’

The irony is, as Weil points out, that ‘failure’ is a notion increasingly embraced. I believe this to be a good thing; in our high achieving environment, our girls need to learn how to stumble and fail to understand that ‘the best path is rarely a straight line.’ Several staff, attending a National Coalition of Girls’ Schools conference last June, heard Michelle Poler speak about her 100 Days Without Fear initiative in which she challenged herself to do something that scared her each day, for 100 days. Michelle talked about the importance of stepping outside one’s comfort zone to overcome fear. Our staff have created a wonderful video series entitled #DareToFailSCS in which colleagues have been sharing their stumbles and failures with our community. That we can be our ‘best’ selves if we take risks and keep on trying is an important idea that benefits our girls- and a strong message when coming from those to whom they look for learning.

Having said that, does failure have to be the only focus when it comes to achievement?

In a world where with increasing pressure to be perfect and best, I know we remind our girls- and even ourselves- that it will be OK if we don’t do as well as we had hoped. As Weil points out, “To honor adequacy is not to abolish standards,” and perhaps even more importantly, “to honor adequacy is not to preclude improvement…Insofar as adequacy is a license to continue what you are doing, it usually causes a person to do it better over time.”

As Weil contends, there is great benefit to cultivating “the feeling of being proud and grateful to be good enough to continue doing something from which we get pleasure and knowledge. “

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