A visit to Star City, a once highly restricted area where cosmonauts trained for space missions, was included on the itinerary of a trip to Russia a few years ago. The premises appeared to be largely abandoned by that time, but Soviet era architecture continued to set a serious tone for all who entered the area. The day’s presenters were rightly proud of the research conducted there—and of their centrifuge. The TsF-18 Centrifuge, used for cosmonaut physiology research and training at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre, was boast-worthy. Its rotating arm measured 59 feet in length and could simulate up to 30gs with a payload mass of 770 pounds. I don’t fully understand that last sentence, except to know that it provides evidence of what they considered to be an extremely important part of the presentation: this is the BIGGEST centrifuge in the WHOLE WORLD. If you don’t believe the Russians, check the Guinness Book of World Records.
Why does it matter if it is the largest centrifuge so long as it serves it purpose? That seems like a fair question, but I honestly don’t know the answer. A similar claim was made for a number of things we saw while visiting Russia. It was an obvious point of pride, perhaps even crucial to their identity and confidence. (It might be fun to pit a Russian against a Texan, where everything is supposedly bigger, just to see what happens!) The attitude we encountered there fits neatly with a widely-held sentiment that being the biggest and the best, or having the most, matters in this world (or even the smallest can be a point of pride so long as you are the –est of whatever you’re representing!). The thing at which you are biggest, smallest, or best doesn’t have to be important, or even interesting, so long as it is “your thing.” It may well become your claim to fame.
While verifying the TsF-18 Centrifuge claim, I found these other “bests” also recorded by Guinness.
- Fastest female biker – She rode 18,000 miles in 124 days. I know how I feel after riding a measly 25 miles. For her sake, I hope a lot of that route was downhill!
- Largest hula hoop spun by a female — 17 feet .25 inches. Not to be out spun, the male record is 17 feet 8 inches. I freely admit to being hula challenged, especially when reading that the current record for continuous hula-hooping is 100 hours, exceeding the previous record by an emphatic 25 hours. My most recent effort with the hula hoop was decades ago. If I remember correctly, I was lucky to get more than three rotations before the hoop made a date with gravity to meet at the ground around my ankles.
- The longest lasting group hug – Four Irish men hugged for 30 hours and 1 minute. I have to wonder if this one began after too many pints in a local pub. It is listed among a group of records that reportedly could be easily broken if you are looking to add your name to the book. After being advised not to hug for the last several months, you might be ready to challenge for this record. I heard of one person so desperate for a hug that her pastor put on full protective gear and made a house call. If you’re interested in giving this a try I’d advise waiting until the whole COVID thing passes. A 30 hour and 2 minute hug would be difficult enough in the best of circumstances. Wearing a mask the entire time would make it unbearable.
- Finally, for the strong among us, you might consider pursuing the most overhead presses of a person in one minute. The number is 82. Think about it. That is faster than one repetition per second. At that rate, I hope the one being pressed doesn’t have motion sickness issues. I don’t know if there are minimum weight requirements for the person posing as a barbell, but I’d advise erring on the lighter side and practicing somewhere that provides for a soft landing—just in case.
Those are interesting pastimes, and to each their own. Goals that motivate can be good things. Projects that invite focus and distract us from life’s stresses contribute to our overall health. Hobbies that bring joy and entertainment help round out a full and satisfying life. Still, I often find myself wondering what the obsession is with being the best. Is enjoyment not possible otherwise? Don’t misunderstand. This isn’t a plea for mediocrity or lethargy. When I compete, I like to win! It begs the question, though, of why so many trivial things are turned into a contest with bragging rights at stake. I appreciate the desire to reach our full potential, but why is the urge to outdo everyone else added to the effort? Being the best I can be is one thing; being better than you is another. Why is that such a stimulant? Is it because competition is woven deeply into our DNA or our psyche? On the other hand, I remember The Ungame from the 1970’s. It was a non-competitive game designed to promote communication rather than winning. Honestly, I hated it. For me, one thing worse than turning unimportant things into competitions was playing a game that nobody wins. Competition, winning and (occasional) losing are fine. It is the obsession with being the best that puzzles me, where best is defined as “better than you.” When that is the prevailing mindset, we are perpetually in one of two modes: seeking more so as to climb to the top of the scoreboard, or defending our status so that no one dethrones us. On the playground or with board games that may be harmless enough. When those attitudes translate to real life, they establish patterns that encourage excessive accumulation and oppression, neither of which is ever fully satisfied. Gathering more is forever necessary if we are to progress; working against others helps prevent losing our place in the standings.
What would an alternative be, you ask? What if the goal was having or being “enough” rather than “best” or “most?” If that sounds like an absurd idea, consider the act of breathing. There is a case where we have learned to be content with enough breath. We are so confident that we have enough that we rarely think about it until something unusual like smoke and ash from wildfires darkens the sky and pollutes our air supply. We presume there is always enough for our needs and rarely worry about being deprived. Even if we did worry, it is not as though we could stockpile breath in our lungs like toilet paper in our closets so that we have extra in the house in case of a shortage. We can have too little breath, which is uncomfortable, and even panic inducing. But so far as I know, we can’t store extra in our bodies to serve our needs, if say, we should run short next month (unless you count canisters of oxygen, perhaps).
Thinking about “enough” reminds me of a story in Exodus of the Old Testament where God provided food in the form of manna to the Israelites in the wilderness. After feeling deprived and facing a food shortage, a natural inclination is to stash some extra for the next time hunger strikes, like trying to sneak out a few leftovers from an all-you-can-eat buffet. With those, you can eat until you pop a button or two while you’re there, but you can’t take any leftovers with you! So it was with the manna. Part of the storyline in Exodus was that people were to gather only what was necessary for the day. That is to say, take only enough to meet one’s immediate needs. No stockpiling allowed. It was an exercise in trusting divine provision. It goes against a frequent tendency to take advantage of the abundance of the moment to tide us over during the next shortage.
More and more, I find myself mulling over the idea of “enough” in contrast to “most” or best.” It makes perfect sense but also feels slightly contrarian. Many social messages that influence us encourage always seeking more, but is “more” necessary? If that pursuit becomes an obsession with being the best or having the most, is that a wise choice for my overall well-being and aims in life? If it encourages a person to work longer hours or more years until at some point they no longer recognize their family, is that a healthy trade-off? Some of those excessive tendencies are for superficial and vain reasons. Others’ hectic lives seem necessary to make ends meet. It takes a lot of hours at minimum wage to cover the cost of living. Part of the challenge is to alter our values and reign in our choices; but another part is to give each other better alternatives to begin with. Even that is influenced by whether we all want “more” or simply “enough.”
I recently stumbled across a TED talk in which the speaker detailed his efforts to cap his corporation’s profits while still meeting stakeholders’ expectations. He was committed to providing an acceptable return on their investments while also providing reasonably priced rental housing to a group being otherwise priced out of the neighborhood in which they worked. It was a logical set of steps to take once he had committed to the concept of “enough” rather than “most” as a guiding principle in his work. Many of us will never occupy a position where we make the kind of decision that will directly affect a wide portion of a neighborhood, but examples like that might inspire us to inspect our own areas of influence where seeking “enough” shifts our emphases and refreshes our lives while also improving others’ chances for success. It may reduce stress or free energy for other pastimes—like hula hooping, for instance!
When asked, “How much money is enough?” John D. Rockefeller is reported to have said, “Just a little more.” That means our work is never done! My childhood was spent working on the family farm. My adult work life primarily focused on serving as a pastor or an administrator. Each of those was an occupation where the work was never finished. Not really. There was always one more thing that could be done. A 24/7 commitment meant even at leisure you were on-call if needed. To succeed in settings like those, one has to be content with having done enough for the time being. Accomplishing one more thing won’t necessarily provide completion or satisfaction. One more work task won’t likely be a game changer. In those “the work is never done” settings, one has to be willing to work hard but also to relax and play without succumbing to the pressure to do one more thing. And when it comes to money, honestly, it can be difficult to name a monetary figure that is enough. We can’t foresee the future with clarity. Educated guesses are the best we can do, but we might fairly wonder if there isn’t some level where more money doesn’t translate to a better or happier life.
Why is the concept of enough so difficult to accept? Perhaps because we have never enjoyed a period in life in which we had enough. Money, food, love, freedom, and friends always seemed to run short so that the idea of enough has never occurred to us. We take what we can find and are always on the lookout for more. Or possibly even when we knew, on some level, that we had enough, something or someone pushed our buttons and we felt not quite good enough or secure enough and mistakenly thought that “more” would alleviate that condition. Or maybe from the earliest playground experience, it has seemed that someone has always been out to take what is yours, so it’s important to protect it and be prepared for those worst case scenarios. And especially when the ambition or aggression of others infringes on our peaceful efforts, the temptation to retaliate may rumble within us. There are multiple challenges to living as though we have enough, but I think it could be worth the risk. Perhaps we begin by asking things like:
- Am I driven by a desire or need to have more than I currently have? If so, why? Am I in fact suffering from a lack of enough or merely looking to add to my pile?
- What would change in my time, identity, and availability if I chose to seek “enough” rather than “more?”
- Do I have enough assets or support in my life to slow down and spend more time with the people I love, the pastimes I enjoy, and the community I cherish?
- If I don’t love what I do, do I have “enough” to pivot toward a new direction and pursue something that captures my heart? (It doesn’t have to be bike miles, group hugs, or human presses!)
- Do I have enough to share—be it wisdom, time, or something else—in ways that empower others to become enamored with enough as well?
Not until we have an idea of what is important and what is needed can we begin to contemplate releasing the idea that more and best are always preferable. Once we do, we may just discover that we have enough already!