Why is Being Enough So Elusive?

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“I am the only person who can determine my worth.” Eleanor Roosevelt

 

When is Enough Truly Enough?

There’s the question I haven’t been able to answer. It is: “When is it good enough?” 

‘It’ is: 

A presentation. 

A work product. 

A comment I made.

Career progression.

Contribution.

My mothering.

The value I add.

My diet and exercise routine.

Really, ‘it’ is a proxy for my deeper internal, seemingly constant question, “When am I good enough?” 

So, why is being enough so seemingly elusive?

So, much of my adult life has been a relentless pursuit of enough. Others’ standards for me are high. My own expectations often feel even loftier. The bar is ever-rising. 

More is expected of me in 2019 than in 2018.

I worry about making mistakes. Failing. Faltering. Falling. Not measuring up.

As we all hustle harder to achieve our goals and objectives year over year, how do we calibrate our exertion? How do we know when we ramp up or scale back? How do we know if our efforts are truly enough? 

 
“When I exert mental and physical energy worrying about being ‘good enough’, I have significantly less energy to allocate to creativity, innovation, and problem-solving.”

Energy

Being enough is related to a critical element of leadership: Energy. When I exert mental and physical energy worrying about being ‘good enough’, I have significantly less energy to allocate to creativity, innovation, and problem-solving. In my pursuit of enough, which comes with self-doubt, and seemingly endless examination, I often feel drained and beat up instead of energized and alive.

Too often trying to be enough, leaves me depleted, without the energy to evolve.

 

Early On

I was certain I wasn’t enough as soon as I learned to read. Or more to the point, when I was trying to learn to read. Trying being the operative word here. 

Our second grade class was neatly racked and stacked into reading groups, and despite the unassuming names of the groups “Beacons” versus “Banners”, we all knew who was at the top and who was at the bottom. I was at the bottom, placed in the lowest reading group. 

My least favorite classroom exercise was when our teacher would have us take turns reading aloud. I could see my turn inching closer as each student spoke audibly. While my classmates smartly doled out crisp sentences with perfectly pronounced words, I would sweat and shake with anticipation. At my turn, I paused, sounded things out, got stuck. Then, silence. I felt hot. And inadequate.

Thirty years later, after completing a doctorate degree, I would be diagnosed with dyslexia. But I didn’t know the that there was a reason I was struggling.

Later, in high school, growing up in Ann Arbor, MI, I received more messages about enough that were embedded in others’ acceptance of me. I longed to have the solid footing and shared identify of belonging to one social group. But I never did. I moved between groups seamlessly, was kind to everyone, but without membership. I was an athlete. And smart (by then, I had developed my own strategies to compensate for my dyslexia). A member of student council. I was considered popular. I said “Hello” to everyone in the hallway, but I rarely had weekend plans.

Attention from boys was not an affliction I suffered – no one asked me out. 

Later, at class reunions, or when running into my mom at the grocery store, guys I knew in high school would, swallow hard and confide that they’d wanted to ask me out, but had been intimidated, afraid. 

At a time when I desperately wanted to be enough, to have a place in the world, with a group, or within a relationship, I wasn’t. I felt adrift and unmoored.

 

Why is Enough Important?

Being enough means we feel confident in our own capabilities. We believe in ourselves. We value the rare and beautiful gifts each of us has to offer. Being enough means we also believe in the intrinsic value of our own strengths and talents, versus doing, to try to prove our worth. 

When we’re not enough, we lose out – on opportunities, relationships, experiences, and contributions because we believe we are lacking.

 

Here are five pitfalls of not being enough. When we’re not enough:

1.     WE BEHAVE OUT OF DESIRE RATHER THAN DUTY.

When duty drives our lives, we live according to a belief of who we “should” be. In short, we’ve read the script and the costume fits. As the late Albert Ellis said “You are ‘shoulding’ all over yourself.” 

Not long ago, I had a great job with a wonderful company, and a large house with a pool in the suburbs. I was living the life I thought I should be living. The life I thought I should want. A life that would make everyone else happy and proud. There was just one problem. I was pretty miserable. I had everything I thought I wanted, but in truth, I was listening to others desires and dutifully delivering. 

The price for behaving from a place duty, was my own joy.

 Since then, I’ve asked myself some hard questions. Then, I listened carefully to the honest answers that percolated within me. In response, I worked to make my desires on the inside match the life I was living on the outside. I feel more joyful now.

2.     WE BELIEVE IN OTHERS’ ASSESSMENT OF OUR STRENGTHS AND TALENTS.

When we’re not enough, we’ll accept others telling us who we are. Deciding our identity and worth for us on our behalf.

Like a precious gem, many people will appraise you. But it is up to you to know your ultimate value.

We’re willing to accept the scraps when we don’t believe in our own worthiness. We settle for what we’re offered instead of selecting our opportunities. We live lives that are small when we are meant for bigger, bolder, beautiful and more expansive experiences. 

We must be our own guide, compass, and decider; taking the responsibility for our own destination.

My favorite word is the world “No” because I love turning “no’s” into “yes’s”. No is an opportunity to: refine my argument, demonstrate how much I want it, make the impossible possible, and to believe in what could be instead of what is. Never let no stop you.

3.      WE STAY TOO LONG IN SITUATIONS THAT DON’T SERVE US OR DESERVE US. 

In my qualitative work on leadership resilience, I found five factors of particularly resilient people that allow people to flourish through challenge. One of the factors is the concept of productive perseverance. People who are productively perseverant intelligently pursue a goal – they don’t stay too long in situations that won’t ultimately yield results, and they don’t give up the mission prematurely. 

When we don’t know our worth and value, we stay too long in these compromising circumstances, we lose out on other, better, more life-giving, developmental opportunities. By saying “yes” to one opportunity – a role, project, decision, or change, we effectively have to turn down another body of work – there is an opportunity cost inherent in being enough.

Instead of settling for the opportunities we’re given, we can be choosey about selecting the opportunities we want.

4.     WE DON’T ADVOCATE FOR OURSELVES. 

We aren’t stewards of our own contributions: the music we write, the screenplays we create, the results we achieve. We minimize our contributions. Or worse, aren’t aware of our unique talents we possess. 

Earlier in my career, feelings of being less than held me back – I didn’t believe I was qualified, experienced, or smart “enough”, so I didn’t raise my hand for stretch assignments and new opportunities. 

Adam Grant, in his book, The Originals discussed how we’re actually pretty poor judges of the quality of our own creativity. 

Stieg Larsson’s iconic Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy was published posthumously. Despite being a journalist and author of short stories, he’d written the books in the evening for his own enjoyment, and never attempted to publish the manuscripts, not realizing their immense creativity and readership his books would enjoy during his lifetime. 

When we’re we don’t believe in the value of our work products, and advocate for them, our gorgeous creations may never see the light of day.

Similarly, research demonstrates that women don’t often consider jobs unless they meet 100% of the qualifications, whereas men will consider a role when they only have 60% of the qualifications. Now, I subscribe to the 60/40 role. If I know how to do 60% of a job, I believe I can learn the other 40% and be successful. 

Instead of allowing “enough” to paralyze me, I have faith in myself. When I see opportunities, raising the bar is a motivator – I am fueled by the opportunity to sharpen my skills and advocate for the work my team and I are delivering.

5.     WE SAY YES WHEN WE MEAN NO. 

We acquiesce to agreements, circumstances that compromise our potential, joy, and capacity. In 2003 I had front row tickets for John Mayer’s concert in Washington, DC. I had saved my precious money for months to purchase these coveted tickets to hear John perform. I had looked forward to the experience all summer, and when the time came, I requested the evening off at the waitressing job I had in Adams Morgan to augment my graduate student income. But when the restaurant schedule came out, I was scheduled for the evening of the concert. I helpfully pointed out to my manager that I had requested the time off, and asked if he could adjust the schedule to put another server on the shift. My manager said that not only could he not find someone to cover my shift, he needed me to work, and if I did not work that evening, it would be grounds for dismissal from my job. 

My efforts to find someone to cover my shift, and when the evening of the concert came, rather than enjoy John’s beautiful music and the experience I had dreamed out – I turned up for work. Looking back on that evening, I long to whisper in the ear of my younger self and tell her she doesn’t need that waitressing job. That she can work in another restaurant that values her and the aspects of her that make her some alive. As I look on, rather than setting her tables, shining the silver, and polishing the glass, my younger self decides to live her life. She looks outside and bolts for the door, untying her apron, and allowing it to flutter to the ground behind her, never looking back.

Being enough is not once and for all. It is a process.

We are all on the potter’s wheel, being refined and shaped by each experience. As we spin, with each revolution, hopefully there is also a revelation. It’s easy to wonder when we’ll be finally formed. Done. Complete. But we are never complete. And when we consider the alternative, of being glazed and fired in a kiln, to no longer have a flexibility for change and evolution, to be put on a shelf for display to collect dust, staying on the wheel sounds much better.

I still ask myself, every day, some version of “Are you good enough?” On the best days, I allow this to be a challenge, a friendly wager between the person I am today, and the person I am becoming. On the worst days, I can say negative things to myself and feel unfit. I’m still learning. I am still on the potter’s wheel. There is no place I’d rather be.

In closing, I wanted to share this with you:

Somethings aren’t meant for us. You might fail. You might flail, not win the heart of the person you love – these experiences are data, an opportunity to learn, not to beat yourself down. If you deepest desires and dreams go unfulfilled, despite your best efforts, it means there is something better in store. Keep showing up to be formed.

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