For a Happier Life, Satisfice

A reformed perfectionist’s journey toward ‘good enough’

Brianna Conrey
Forge
Published in
6 min readJan 18, 2022

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Woman multitasking in an art studio
Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

A few weeks ago, I happened to catch a Freakonomics podcast entitled “Are You a Maximizer or Satisficer?” The podcast, which originally aired in 2020, consists of a conversation between host Steven J. Dubner and psychologist Angela Duckworth about how they allocate time and resources in their lives to achieve their goals. Whereas maximizing entails seeking optimal solutions, “satisficing” — a concept pioneered by Nobel prize-winning economist Herbert A. Simon — is about finding solutions that are “good enough.” Duckworth is an unapologetic maximizer on everything except exercise, whereas Dubner has consciously embraced a mixture of maximizing and satisficing:

“…I do feel I’m a maximizer in certain realms, especially when it comes to work, things that I care about, or my family. But then I just started to feel like, if you think economically, I wanted to come up with categories of life where I consciously wanted to be a satisficer.”

In listening to the podcast, I was surprised by how much I identified with Dubner’s perspective. I began considering myself a perfectionist — essentially a maximizer — in the sixth grade. At that time, perfectionism was my armor, a reactionary identity adopted partly in self-defense against the middle school boys who teased me for being smart, and partly in self-preservation to keep my mind engaged despite the numbing slowness of school.

I kept up my perfectionism for many years, all the way through college and grad school. I can’t say that I regret it, exactly: I pushed my mind to grow as much as it could, and developed a strong work ethic and mental self-discipline that continue to serve me well to this day. However, the toll was steep, both physically and psychologically. At every semester break, I would either get sick or sleep for days. I constantly felt stressed out, and had trouble controlling my naturally hot temper, especially around those I was closest to.

That level of perfectionism started to fray once I became a mother. It simply wasn’t possible to do my work perfectly all the time and also take care of my kids, especially once I had two. And then came a Very Bad Year, which included a house fire, a concussion, and a divorce. There started…

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Brianna Conrey
Forge
Writer for

Family, relationships, and life after divorce with a twist of humor. Exploring happiness, creativity, and how to be a good person in a complicated world.