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QUINTESSENCE

Almost Perfect

Getting 85% of what you want out of work, real estate, or love is about right. Aim higher and you're likely to find yourself self-employed, living at home, or single.
- Glenn Byron Waugh, my grandfather

It's strange how as I grow older, the words of advice imparted to me along the way have come to mean more. My gandfather, a cheerful self-made man who left school in the 8th grade and rose to become the successful advertising director for a national retail store, was full of good Scotch advice; pithy, unsentimental truisms that he imparted to me along the way. Particularly after I left college and began my career at the State Department in Washington DC: Real Life 101. One of his favorite bits of advice was the saying I included in my memoir, THE GEOGRAPHY OF LOVE, "If you don't like it, get out of it. If you can't get out of it, get into it." A fabulous way of pointing out that we first have choice, and then we have perspective. Use them both, and make any less than ideal situation work as best you can. I have imparted this particular saying to my adult children several times in the last year as they have navigated college, work, graduate school. Life is all about both goals and compromise, dreams come true and imperfect outcomes.

Married to a sweet and artistic German girl, the only girl and youngest of three, my grandfather was fond of quoting one particular phrase from her father, Willhelm Gerhauser. Great-grandfather Gerhauser was immigrated to America: a resourceful and hardworking man, he established a homestead farm in the West. Roughly translated, the folkism my grandfather imparted to me means, "All is good, nothing is not good." A perhaps slightly fatalistic, but optimistic belief that everything is meant to be, even if it takes awhile to understand (or accept) exactly how or why. Very helpful in the uncertainty of drought, war, an unfamiliar culture. Being twenty-something in a fast-paced, changing world.

The "85%" quote of my grandfather's most recently came up at a wedding. The sage, often expressed sentiment that unique differences are both the spice of interest and the frustration of compromise. We are not clones of one another, and that individualistic element is the final 15% in someone we may never quite get, accept, or particularly like. But life is about awesome "mostly," not totally. We are mostly successful, mostly happy, mostly on track, mostly healthy, mostly satisfied in our careers, mostly content with our kitchens, mostly a good fit with our spouses.

That is, if we're lucky. Mostly is pretty damn fine.

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