‘Pretty Good’ Just Isn’t Enough

Twenty-five years ago I clipped an Ann Landers column from a newspaper, and it’s traveled many, many worn miles with me throughout nearly half of my life.

I would have been 20 when I first read it – long before becoming a wife, a mother and a business owner – but it carried a message that I aspired to rise above in all areas of my life… even though I had no idea at that point in time the myriad of directions and challenges that life would hand me.
I want to share it with you today because I feel it carries a profound message that is every bit as timely (if not more so) today as is was when it was first printed years ago.

In the column, Ann attributes it to a poem written by Charles Osgood, from “The Osgood File”, (c) 1986:

There once was a pretty good student,
Who sat in a pretty good class
And was taught by a pretty good teacher,
Who always let ‘pretty good’ pass.

He wasn’t terrific at reading,
He wasn’t a whiz-bang at math,
But for him, education was leading
Straight down a pretty good path.

He didn’t find school too exciting,
But he wanted to do pretty well,
And he did have some trouble with writing,
And nobody had taught him to spell.

When doing arithmetic problems,
Pretty good was regarded as fine.
Five plus five didn’t always add up to 10,
But a ‘pretty good’ answer was nine.

The pretty good class that he sat in,
Was part of a pretty good school.
And the student was not an exception,
On the contrary, he was the rule.

That pretty good school that he went to
Was there in a pretty good town.
And nobody there seemed to notice
He could not tell a verb from a noun.

The pretty good student in fact was
Part of a pretty good mob.
And the first time he knew what he lacked was
When he looked for a ‘pretty good’ job.

It was then, when he sought a position,
He discovered that life could be tough.
And he soon had a sneaky suspicion
‘Pretty good’ might not be good enough.

The pretty good town in our story
Was part of a pretty good state,
Which had pretty good aspirations,
And prayed for a pretty good fate.

There once was a pretty good nation,
Pretty proud of the greatness it had,
Which learned much too late, if you want to be great…
Pretty good is, in fact pretty bad.

I am very interested to hear your comments on this and invite you to share with others how it strikes you given the state of affairs today in business, politics, economics, education and the myriad of other ways that ‘pretty good’ has unfolded in all of our lives…

34 Responses to ‘Pretty Good’ Just Isn’t Enough

  • Cindy says:

    I think it is amazing how long it takes us as an individual or nation to stop accepting second best. As we can see from this article that we deserve so much more than what we are willing to receive.

  • Sally says:

    Hey Stephanie,

    I have to say this was not a pretty good blog post…. it was excellent.

    And I guess it reminded me that being pretty good, at anything, is just not enough, you have to go that extra mile.

    Not sure if that’s the message I was supposed to get, but it’s what I got lol.

    I love that poem so so so much, in fact I am actually going to print it off and keep it!

    Don’t you think it’s funny to remember back to when your 20, before the kids came along, oh the dreams we had…

    I have to say my life is pretty good, no wait, it’s amazing and I wouldn’t change a single thing about it.

    Love the new blog, I shall need to pop over more often,

    Sally 🙂

  • Dr. Garry says:

    “Pretty Good”, in Today’s World.

    Today, If one can find “GOOD” in whichever qualifying adjective or adverb one so chooses … that would be Quite the FEAT (or should that be “Feet”) … Walk or Run Quickly to Enter or Join whatever GOOD one can Find. I am NOT implying that there is NO GOOD anywhere … however, the Reality of Modern Times so being Today = IF one Finds GOOD … GOOD! Also, there is a psychological and metaphysical Understanding that must be Captured Here … I’ll leave Now and let the reader(s) FIND That Understanding within his/her own Context/Perception … Be Happy! BE GOOD … 🙂 … Find Good … 🙂 …

  • Tom King says:

    Pretty good article:-). I actually agree with you. Find what you are excited about and then go for greatness. This is true for business and for your important personal relationships.

  • Susan says:

    With all the p.c. nowadays and rewarding even the least for fear of hurting feelings – we have travelled down the road of mediocre and just good enough, too long and too our detriment. It shows that it is not only an intrinsic motivation but the expectations of the world that impact of everyone.
    A very good poem .. thank you for making me think!
    Blessings, Sue

  • Nancy Fellenz says:

    Interesting that I read this just after finishing another article (by Dr. Margaret Paul), which spoke about four mistakes we make: Self Judgment, Giving Ourselves Up, Competition vs. Compassion, and Controlling vs. Learning to Love Ourselves and Others.

    I feel that the poem is dead on in terms of where we each need to be aiming for with success. However, success has different definitions for different people. How we get there is equally important. How we feel about ourselves, treat others and how we operate in the world are most important.

  • Great post – think this would make a really good metaphor to use with clients as well. Thank you for sharing.

    Brenda Bentley
    Cognitive Hypnotherapy Birmingham, UK

  • Tom says:

    Ask what “having a pretty good day” means to Michael Jordon, Phil Mickelson, Jeff Gordon, or an olympic athlete. It means second place and thousands of dollars.

    Ask any astronaut if they want the NASA Engineers to be just “pretty good”.

    Pretty good is okay if you only want to be second best.

  • It reminds me a bit of the saying, “When you stop getting better, you stop being good.”

    Sadly, that is in part why our USA is in the state it is in.

    On a personal level, it makes me think of my personal progress in life. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  • Rachida says:

    Hi friends,

    This is a great poem, so meaningfull and spiritual!

    We need to love and let go, so let do !!



  • Excellent Post.

    We have so much unused potential available….

    Imagine what we could do if we dared to stretch beyond the boundaries of our self-imposed limits!

  • kirkn says:

    Hey Patricia Weber, Very nice addition to the aforementioned blog. “When you stop getting better, you stop being good.” Great fuel for the Rocket engines of our mind. Thanks Patricia.

  • jessica says:

    Hello Stef, thank you for such great article.. Used to read Ann Landers sometime ago, brought nice memories. Compared to that time and now, in spite of the ´´in spite of´´ feel today a lot has been lost in terms of education, values, etc. compared to then yet on the other side, a lot has been gained as well though not many realize it, thus it is for each to discover it and used it to their best highest good as well as for the others..for ´´pretty good´´ could well turn just as good.

  • Robyn says:

    Hi Stephanie,

    Great post, love the poem. I am going to print it out for my daughter. Hopefully she will realize that being ‘pretty good’ is O.K. but being ‘pretty great’ is so much better.

    Take care.


  • Hi Stephanie.

    That was a terrific way for me to start the day: Thankyou. I echo the sentiments of the many other contributors before me.

    Its so easy to accept ‘pretty good’ in our lives particularly when we don’t have to extend ourselves. As a coach and speaker, I encounter this mindset every day. The old saying goes something like this, ‘Things are pretty good at the moment: Why rock the boat’?

    To move from pretty good to magic requires effort and determination. It means making a real and empassioned choice to empower our inspiration and self-belief and perhaps, even taking a risk to bring about improvements in our lives.

    Laziness, apathy and procrastination often see us accepting second best because its the path of least resistence. It means we don’t have to stretch ourselves or step from our comfort zones.

    Why should we run the risk of giving up what we currently enjoy in our lives, simply for a gamble? Because it means we have to trust ourselves and have respect for who we are and the path we tread. It means enacting a plan of action and fuelling it with passion, drive and determination to move us from a position of mediocrity to one of incredible prosperity.

    If we all only accepted that we have the innate power to build and live the ideal life, we would eagerly reject ‘pretty good’ and embrace all that life offers us. Once we take off the blinkers and shake the apathy, we would see the incredible opportunities which flood into our loves ever day. We would passionately embrace the sunshine in our lives and accept the occasonal clouds which gather and confidently work through the issues.

    Refusal to accept ‘pretty good’ means we now have the courage, power and commitment to accept the extraordinary. It is possible – we need only believe.

    Thanks again for such a provocative piece.



  • dr luigi azzaro says:

    Awesomely inspiring

  • Brian says:

    This is a call for striving and pushing to be excellent. It is important to believe that you can indeed achieve excellence and encourage yourself to pursue it. With that said, I would say be careful and don’t beat up on yourself because you will find that it will most likely shut yourself down.

  • Christine R says:

    “Pretty Good” wasn’t recognized as effort in my family. We were encouraged always to “try your very best”. Praised and hugged when we achieved it. Hugged, consoled and encouraged for the future when we didn’t. Important values to instil into any child. There should be more of it today. No… near enough isn’t good enough.

  • John says:

    Well, that was a pretty good set of posts, if you’ll forgive my boorish sense of humour.

    In fact I concur with these sentiments absolutely. Best is best – nothing else will do – and it starts with education, which regrettably could use a pretty good and fulsome “brighten up”.

  • Julie says:

    This is a great poem and reminder how we should not accept mediocre and instead push ourselves, along with our family, and our friends to achieve their best.

    I am sure many people here can relate, who are in business for themselves and have to jump over hurdles of disappointment and frustrations to reach their goals.

    We should always do our best and give it more than the “ol’ college try” because in the real world you certainly don’t get an A for effort.

  • Ilona says:

    Hi stephanie I think the opposite we start out just perfect and by the time we get so called educated we are always finding we are not enough . When will we just say enough we are enough. I know I am I cant speak for everyone else. I dont have a need to be on the lader any more . the only thing I still require is people who need help to come and get it . Thanks for a great post but I dont buy it that is just my oppinion thanks for allowing me to express it here love and light always Ilona thankyou

  • Lana says:

    Fantastic! This a story I will read to my 6 and 10 year old children. In this day and age Education is VITAL – Parents must, must do their utmost to make kids understand this. Thanks – this article will be another communication tool to teach the importance of education.

  • Stephanie, you hit the nail on the head. “pretty good” wasn’t allowed in my family or community, and I was shamed as a child when I didn’t do well at school and was not rewarded for poor performance like kids I see today. One of the things I think is fatal in our society is blaming a child’s poor performance on the school or the teacher as I see parents getting away with today.

    The first time I saw this twenty years ago, I was shocked, now it’s become commonplace to demand a teacher’s discipline or suspension for a child’s C, D or F grade. Where is the responsibility of the child and the parents in this equation? That seems to have been forgotten. And kids are coddled and rewarded no matter what kind of results they bring home.

    With no responsibility in a child’s life, they grow up into the entitled, disrespectful and problem-filled young men and women we’re unfortunately seeing in college right now. They’ve never been told they’re wrong, their incorrect answers that were praised as “good try, you’re a good boy/girl!” don’t really work once they’re getting jobs or having to interface with the rest of the world. Cue massive dissatisfaction, getting fired and years of therapy.

    I don’t agree with shaming and blaming children like I grew up with, nor the “Tiger Mother” syndrome where children are tightly controlled and browbeaten by parents into A grades and flawless piano recitals. But I sure don’t agree with the “pretty good” attitude either. A middle way is best, and teaching children (and adults) to learn and live with responsibility is crucial to our survival as a society.

    Thanks for this provocative article! 🙂

  • It was Pretty Good that you wrote this post, but it is excellent that you asked for comments and readers’ thoughts on the topic, making them think about it!!

  • Love the poem Stephanie. It’s true that we should all aim for excellence but not everyone is going to get there. For some “pretty good” will be their excellence.

    But as far as business, politics, economics and education goes, on the whole standards have slipped and pretty good has now become the norm. Time to do something about it.

    BTW love the new blog. I have just had a mini site designed in similar colors!

  • Milav says:

    I read the poem twice and the 18 comments posted. English is my second language and I am a Filipino, proud to be one. The poem did not resonate much for me maybe because pretty good is often used in conversations and even blog posts locally;however after reading the comments I understood that “pretty good” is used to describe mediocre performance or second rate!- Then I got the message.
    Personally I am my own worst critic as far as my work at the office and the ministry I serve at the church is concerned. I firmly believe that everyone deserves the BEST service from anyone but at the same time all of us should also deliver the BEST of what is expected from us.
    In our culture – we are not comfortable asserting ourselves (specially in print)so when we try to “sell” our services or products (even if we believe it as the best in the market)we tend to downplay it and just describe it as “pretty good”! it is normal or standard for us to underpromise but over deliver!
    Thanks for posting and sharing. I must remember not to describe my projects as “pretty good” specially when communicating with foreigners.

  • Joseph M Krush, Ph. D. says:

    Yes, yes, yes, a million times yes! I was a very serious student, even back in high school. Even then, it appalled me that the passing mark was 50%, and that 65% was considered average, and even 70% was above average. There is no job in the world that you can keep if you do only 65% or 70% of things right! With my 90%+ grades, I got accepted into a prestigious university for doctoral studies, but NOT into Harvard, Yale, or Cambridge. The conclusion is obvious.

  • tori says:

    The “Tiger Mother” was attacked from all sides for acting like only winning counts, yet here you are pushing that same philosophy. No wonder everyone’s so fascinated by Charlie Sheen–as he says, he’s a winner! And, he’s rich and famous–that’s all that matters, right? Who cares that he’s a drug addict and an abuser–he doesn’t settle for mediocrity, he’s got TWO young girlfriends. Well, to me, “pretty good” is fine. How do you think successful people get to where they are? Every day they do a little. Even if it SUCKS. Til one day, they get to excellence. So please don’t push this “pretty good isn’t good enough” crap. I think Obama is pretty good. And GWB was worse than pretty bad. I’ll take pretty good any day.

  • KRISHNA says:

    Pretty good does not sound pretty good.But it is neither here nor there.It was ok in earlier times when competition was not fierce and the oppurtunities were more.Now the mantra is better than the best, the best of the lot etc.There is vagueness in the true meaning of pretty good.At the most we can call it more than average which does not pass today to climb up.So we can cut the pretty and use very good to make some meaning out of it

  • Sshankar says:

    Hmmmmmm! Pretty Good blog. May you gain more power.


  • Luo Ge says:

    The poem is pretty good, but has a spelling error in the second-to-last line (the first “to” should be “too”). The poem does suggest that good spelling is important.

  • Bud says:

    Wow.. that was a pretty darn good poem.. funny how in most casual tense we deem that to mean really good but it REALLY isn’t EXCELLENT.

  • Heather says:

    What a lovely poem! So true.

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