Thoughtful Thursday: The Best

April 19, 2012

Thoughtful ThursdayMy real estate agent isn’t that great. Not terrible by any means, but not the best. My now-former house has been for sale since my mother’s health took a turn for the worse, almost 6 months before she died, which was over a year ago. That means my house has been for sale for a year and a half. It’s been empty for 3 months and counting. We keep dropping the price, and it keeps not getting bought. Our agent does all the things she’s supposed to do, but we can’t help but feel that if we had someone top-notch, they’d be doing more. More marketing, more staging, smarter pricing from the outset, something. It may be the horrendously crappy real estate market, or it may be her.

The catch is that we can’t fire her, and we couldn’t have gone with any other agent — because she is my now-former boss’s wife. He never said that I had to use his wife, but it seemed like it could really be asking for trouble if I didn’t.

DH has a good friend who is the opposite kind of real estate agent, in a different city. He’s the kind you see on billboards. Everyone in the industry knows him. He’s been featured on one of those TV shows that follows someone looking for a new house. If we lived in his city, we’d be obligated to use him, the same way we’re obligated to use my boss’s wife, but I’m glad that we’re not. He is The Best, and he knows it. Maybe because he and DH have been friends for more than 30 years he’d give us extra personal attention rather than charming us at key points in the process and delegating all of the real work to his underlings. Maybe. But he is The Best because of volume, not because of personal attention. No, in the case of real estate I’d rather have someone who wants the best price for me rather than the fastest sale for him. I’d rather have someone who is good but not a superstar.

In many domains, though, I do extensive research to find The Best. Burrito and Tamale’s first pediatrician was absolutely the best in the area, in terms of both skill and bedside manner. My first RE was one of the most famous in the world; my 2nd RE was the most respected in the region. Each car we have bought has been the absolute best possible choice for our needs at the time. Twice I have worked for one of the most important people in the world in my field; both times I have gotten mistreated and been miserable, but I also ended up with letters of recommendation from two of the most important people in our world, and for the rest of my career people will say, “Oh, you worked with him? Wow. He’s my hero.”

In other domains, I settle for fine. For example, the guy who plowed our driveway was fine — I don’t know if it’s even possible to be the best at plowing driveways. Even if it was, how much better could the best plow guy be than the fine one? What difference would it really make? Sometimes, beyond driveways, it does matter. Trust me, when it comes to dentistry it matters — I once had a filling fall out because the crappy dentist hadn’t removed all of the decay. When it comes to selling a house, so far it’s made $100K of difference in the asking price (and counting? please, no, just let it sell, c’mon, please?).

When I was a child athlete, the difference between best and fine was the difference between 1st place and 3rd place.

I was a competitive figure skater as a kid. I was not blessed with natural athletic talent, but I had been taking dance since I was 2, which made me flexible and graceful. I don’t know how my mother chose my skating coaches. My main coach, Brenda, was very nice. Everyone in the rink liked her. Her students did pretty well in competitions. I, however, was perennially 3rd place. There was a Girl Who Won Everything, and every time I moved up to the next level she did too. She was way better than I was, but somehow she didn’t advance faster than I did. It was really annoying. That explained not being 1st, but I almost never got 2nd either. I just wasn’t that good. Not that I was the worst; I usually scored above the middle of the pack. But once I was the only one in my division, and I didn’t get 1st place. They only gave 1st if you deserved it. I was the only competitor, and I placed 2nd. Humiliating.

The Girl Who Won Everything had a very young coach, Tania. When I started skating, Tania wasn’t a coach, just a teenager who skated at the same rink. Then, when she turned 18, she became a coach. And, because Tania had been one of us, a bunch of kids left their coaches and went to her. She was fun and young and so nice, and good. Really good. I stayed loyal to Brenda. I went to her wedding. I helped her evaluate potential baby names. I accidentally blew out the candle on her baby’s first birthday cake. We had a relationship.

Meanwhile, Tania’s students started winning. And winning. And winning. Especially the Girl Who Won Everything, but everyone else too. They collectively swept every competition.

One day, my mother arranged for me to have a single lesson with Tania. I would still be staying with Brenda (and my 2nd coach; don’t ask me why an 11 year old who’s not that good has to have 2 different coaches, but I did), but everyone knew that Brenda’s students were killing it, even the kids who weren’t naturally talented, and I wanted to know what the fuss was about. I had just one lesson with her. In that one lesson, Tania completely changed the way I jumped. I was a better skater after 45 minutes with her. My muscle memory can still recall how it feels to jump the old way vs. the Tania way — I can’t do it anymore, but my brain remembers exactly how Tania taught me to jump twice as high. She was clearly The Best. Yet I stayed with Brenda, fine but unremarkable Brenda.

I don’t know what might have happened if I’d switched to Tania from the start, or what might have happened if I’d switched after that life-changing lesson. Maybe I would have stuck with skating longer. I was never destined for the Olympics, but maybe I could have learned to do the double and triple axels that Tania’s students were doing. I probably would have received at least a few 1st place trophies, which seemed so important at the time even though all of my trophies and medals are gone forever now: after my mother’s death they were all thrown away when her house was cleared out.

Or maybe if I’d switched to Tania, I wouldn’t have learned the feeling of being with someone mediocre and knowing that you could do better, knowing that you are trapped by your own inertia. That feeling is now embedded deep within me. When I should be choosing something better, I feel it at such a visceral level. That feeling has saved me from bad doctors and loser boyfriends and inferior cupcakes. That feeling is why I will find a kick-ass real estate agent for the next house.

When do you want The Best? When do you settle for fine?

14 Responses to “Thoughtful Thursday: The Best”

  1. St. Elsewhere Says:

    The Gyn/Ped combination for my last pregnancy was what fell in the bracket of ‘The Best’. I wanted a bigger social function for Figlia (her naming) but much of my family pushed for a smaller do, and that was fine.

    The products that use for Figlia – her personal hygiene products…it has to be the best. If I am purchasing rompers for her, and have an option between two, I might choose the less expensive one and that is fine.

    Getting a haircut or streaking done at my favourite salon in UsualCity, I ask for X, their Best. Getting my underarms waxed? Any of their regulars can do it, that’s fine.

    The financial costs involved, the non-financial costs involved, the importance of the object to me, my priorities, and the cost of not being able to get the best – that decides for me whether I go for the Best or the Fine.

    And sometimes there are no options. Then whatever is there is fine enough. It’s not like you can choose to do something in that scenario.

  2. St. Elsewhere Says:

    ‘that I use’

  3. sarauckelman Says:

    For the most part, I’m solidly in the “good enough” category (especially when it comes to, e.g., housework). It goes a long way to keeping me sane. My Ph.D. dissertation was finished about 8 months before my husband’s (we started at the same time), because I reached the “eh, it’s good enough” stage and went with it, whereas he kept striving for perfection (and to be fair, his is much better than mine. But mine was *good enough*: I got the degree, I’ve got a job, and 2.5 years out, more than half of my upcoming academic conference travel for the rest of this is year is places where I’ve been invited to give talks). In fact, I guess I really only go for “best” when my husband’s input is involved — for example, we picked out a $650 jogging stroller (which for the first 4 months of Gwen’s life probably was more than double all the rest that we’d spent on her combined) because we knew we wanted a good one, and Joel wanted to be sure it was *the* one. (And amazingly, we picked it out and then between my parents, various relatives, and my parents’ church, we got it as a gift!).

    Daycare? I picked the one that’s affiliated with the university and is convenient for pick-up/drop-off.

    Dr.? Pediatric health is done on a neighborhood basis here; within 1-2 weeks of the birth of your baby you’ll get a home visit from a nurse in your area, and after that you’ll go for well baby visits to the local youth health center which has one dr. and a few nurses. I didn’t have any input on them, but the dr. and the one nurse that I’ve seen I liked a lot.

    I guess I just don’t really have the time, effort, or patience to find the best for most things. Good enough is good enough for me.

  4. Overall – I like quality, which usually comes with a certain price tag (at least for goods).

    I want the best when it comes to stuff that needs to last a while: appliances, HiFi equipment (but this is also mainly due to our ‘professional deformation’), cameras, baby gear, etc. DH always says “we’re too poor to buy something cheap”.

    Regarding health care – I want good doctors for my family, but they need to be easily reachable (especially in case of pediatricians and GPs – I never want distance to be a reason I’m not consulting a Dr when in doubt), and have good bedside manners. After a some misfortune with both GPs and an OBGYN, I found (through a recommendation from a friend) a GP specialized in gyn and pediatrics, who has guided me through my two pregnancies and is also the pediatrician (even though she officially isn’t one) for my two boys. I would not want to trade her for anyone else in the world. She is the best.
    In France there are no websites or databases or whatever to check out doctors or dentists. I found out that I cannot just choose someone through the yellow pages. Referrals from friends or colleagues however have brought me to some excellent physicians: the above-mentioned GP (who, unfortunately for DH doesn’t take any normal GP patients anymore, so he’s still in limbo), my RE (who turned out to be one of the best in this country) and our dentist.

    Regarding daycare or schools: our eldest son is currently with a sitter three days a week that our neighbor’s kids went to and are very happy with. Even though there can always be better (less sugar, more fresh (and organic) food, speaking at a lower volume…), I’m very pleased with her and thankful she had a spot available when we needed it. Our second son will go there as of september, when the oldest will go to preschool (which is just the neighborhood preschool (of which various neighbors with small children are all very pleased) – alternatives would have been private preschools in the area, all roman catholic, or an international preschool on the other side of the city, but which doens’t include Dutch as a language anyway).

    However, with two small kids now, furniture is something where ‘good enough’ is the norm right now – couches that should be replaced because the fabric has stains etc – not for the coming four years probably. Tables, lamps, file cabinets, chests of drawers, dining room chairs, curtains etc. are from the Swedish super store (except for the kids chairs – those are from another Scandinavian brand, but more expensive, because these need to last longer…)

  5. Ana Says:

    Ooh this is a great topic, and even after some thought, I’m not 100% sure where I fall on this—I think it really varies for each circumstance. Overall, while I definitely go for quality–and will wait/pay extra for it, I’m not hell-bent on THE BEST of anything, because who decides that? Something listed as “the best” by someone else’s standards won’t necessarily be a good fit for US—we noticed this with daycares, and definitely with doctors. Where I work is actually considered “the best” in my field, yet, when I see the inner workings—there is a LOT of undesirable, even frankly, awful stuff under the hood—which makes me skeptical of always picking “the best” without trusting my instincts.
    I am trying to spend less time/obsessiveness with choosing things because I’ve realized that whether I spend 2 weeks reading all the reviews on the internet (which is my natural inclination) or spend 10 minutes making sure something meets my needs—I am equally as likely to be satisfied/disappointed. Also, we picked our current daycare kind of on a whim (waitlisted at all the “best”, walked by this one, talked to parents outside, kids looked happy, bingo), and it actually worked out, and we are so so happy. Also it is more affordable because its not “the best”—paying more doesn’t ALWAYS make things better If I can quickly make such an important decision, than I can certainly choose a plumber or buy a microwave without extensive research.

  6. clumsykisses Says:

    I usually settle for fine. My money worries prevent anything else.

  7. Mel Says:

    I am 100% a settle for fine person. I may end up with the best, I may end up with the worst, but I always aim for fine. 99% of the time, if I have to choose something or someone to work with, I go with the first thing or person where I get a gut-reaction that it’s okay. And I don’t look any further. I never look back. I am very big into convenience, and into not using more time than necessary to make a decision.

    But I also don’t have strong feelings about being the best at something. I don’t do races, for instance, even though I could. I mean, I ran a 5K this morning technically, but I’d never run a formal 5K by my own volition. I just don’t do competition. Even when it’s a “fun run” and there is nothing at stake. I’m happy to go running, but I don’t want to run with everyone else at the same time with the same goal.

  8. strongblonde Says:

    For me it’s about outcomes and goals. I have a goal to be happy, healthy, and close with B and my kids. Secondly, I prefer to be frugal–it just makes me feel better. So, with those ground rules I will say that I am probably 50/50. If I’m buying THINGS, I want them to last, so I might spend more on them. For our vacations? They don’t have to be at 5 star places-BEING together is more important. I, of course, don’t want to stay in a shack, but I don’t need to stay at a great place to have a good time. Food and wine: generally I like good stuff. I find myself not really wanting to pay a lot of money for food if I know that I can make it better at home. Services? My lawn guys are fine, definitely better than the service that we used before then. And for that fine is just fine 🙂 We have a triple lot and a little push mower, which currently doesn’t work. The amount of time (which is worth money) and money it would take to do it ourselves just isn’t worth it. And fine works for my lawn. When we had a cleaning service for the inside of the house? She would never clean as much as we would. She was inexpensive, but I found myself totally irritated that she didn’t clean “right”, so we decided to start cleaning ourselves again. Healthcare? That’s hit or miss with me. I’m lucky with my background that I can kind of take care of that end of things. If we are being mistreated, our symptoms are not being investigated enough, whatever-I make a phone call and take care of it. I’m lucky to work for one of the best hospitals. And know people. So, I don’t feel like my doc needs to be the best. She just has to be receptive to me and know when to refer—or refer me if I tell her to 🙂 Dentists, I prefer the best. I’m scared to death of losing all my teeth!!

    okay…too long already…but was shocked to learn of your ice skating past this post! how fun. I’ve always just been “middle of the pack” in sports. I enjoy doing active things…just never have been exceptional at anything.

    and so sorry about the house. what’s your breaking point? now that you don’t work there you could switch to someone else, right? you need to get aggressive-it’s get-it-sold-time for sure!!!

  9. a Says:

    I’m with Mel – fine is fine. Convenience, quick decisions, and cost are my motivating factors. I’d rather not waste time agonizing over the perfect, when I could be enjoying the just fine thing. That doesn’t mean I don’t do my research – I just try to get the main points and make a decision from there, without inspecting every last detail.

    I think competitiveness is a factor, though. I am totally anti-competitive. I learned early that teamwork was not for me (all the teams I was on were academic, and all my teammates left it to me to do all the work), and that while I am good at some things, I’m not the best. I’m better than some, worse than others.

    Also, it is my opinion that all realtors are bad news. Gonna end up hating them anyway, might as well go with whoever has the best sales. With only one exception (and that was probably due to the limited time I work with that guy), I have hated every realtor that I’ve dealt with. But, I have to say that my husband is good at annoying them back. He made one of our realtors buy us a front load washer when we bought our first house.

  10. Lavender Luz Says:

    I suppose it depends on how high the stakes are, whether I go for fine or best. I’m very practical, so I usually throw in location, schedule and price in the mix, too (unless the stakes are super high). I think I’m more of a fine person.

    I really enjoyed reading about Brenda/Tania. I didn’t know you were a figure skater! (Or if I did I had forgotten.) Great examples of the conundrum between fine and best.

  11. Elana Kahn Says:

    When it comes to doctors I want the best, but other than that I could care less. As long as it works! I’d rather pay the least I can and get the job done. I don’t have the big bucks to get the best. 🙂

  12. Tara (TIMO) Says:

    I’m a good enough/fine is fine person. I tend to get what I like with other factors being less important. Will it get the job done? Yes, then that’s the one for me.

    As a former ice skater (competitive precision/team skating), I enjoyed reading about your coaching experiences. My team was in a similar position. We all stuck it out because sometimes that’s all you can do.

  13. I never insist on “the best.” But I tend to think that what I’ve chosen is the best. Like I have the best husband in the entire world. My bestie is the best bestie in the entire universe. My undergrad is so bomb-ass — you know it’s just the best. The best actors come from CMU, where I went to grad school — also the best ideas in just about every area of science and engineering. I think we should all just agree that The Steeler are the best football team in America. LA rocks so hard — but obviously the best place to live out here is Pasadena. And really is there any better place to grow up than St. Louis? What-what! Basically I represent ridiculously hard and if someone tries to tell me otherwise, I shout her or him down, because obviously, that person is wrong.

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