As an individual, it can be hard to say no. Or, at least, taking on too much seems to be a staple of modern life.
But as an institution, even an institution made up of people, it is easy to say no.
There is always too much work to be done. Always too many demands to be met, and too many stakeholders too please. No matter what type of institution operating in what sector, a functional, sustainable institution needs to say no.
And often this is good. A successful institution will only take on those efforts which most closely align with its mission and vision. A successful institution will see more opportunities than it has the capacity to take on. A successful institution will project an air of efficiency and mask the true chaos of the process from the rest of the world.
The problem is the best things, the most important things, aren’t always the easiest.
It is no minor task to build diverse institutions where people of all backgrounds can voice their opinions and engage in rigorous, civil dialogue. The rewards may well be worth it, but the energy and resources needed for this effort often seem monstrous in the face a process that works well enough already.
And well enough is the death knell of these more noble pursuits.
Because in the face of so many opportunities and so little time, well enough is typically the best you can hope for. And adding complications to the process – even in the name of better ends – is generally not taken seriously as a suggestion.
To be fair, I am as guilty of the trap of practicality as anyone. I like things to run simply and smoothly, and my internal voice decries when any complicating factors arise. It’s not that I’m opposed to change, but truth be told…I just want it to work.
It takes a lot just to make things go in the first place, and frankly I often just don’t have the energy to face what it will really take to bring something from well enough to ideal.
But while I can appreciate this reaction in people and institutions, we should none of us settle for that response.
It may be too much to push for ideal all of the time, but neither should we settle for well enough all of the time. As individuals and institutions, we have to push ourselves to take the hard path, the better path. We have to seek to be our best selves and to create the best institutions we can.
It will take a lot of hard, difficult, constant work. But despite the challenges, despite the seeming impracticality, that is the right work to undertake.