“There are plenty of difficult obstacles in your path. Don’t allow yourself to become one of them.” ~Ralph Marston
I recently had a personal conversation with someone who was describing some struggles they were experiencing. In passing, they mentioned “It’s okay for you, you’ve fought your battles” and went on to talk about how I’m married, I’m working in a career I love, and I’m “successful.”
Listening to them, I could feel my heart breaking, partly for them: I know what it’s like to compare my insides to someone else’s outsides and find myself severely wanting.
But I also felt a deep sadness tinged with frustration, because their assumption was so far from the truth.
While I am incredibly grateful to have the relationship, the professional opportunities, and everything else I have—and it’s true there are some battles that are now in my past—there are also plenty of challenges I’m still navigating. The biggest one by far is around feeling good enough; feeling at peace and fulfilled with who I am and what I’m doing in life.
For a long time, I used external achievement to buoy my sense of worthiness. Underneath that, however, hid a lot of shame and anxiety, because I thought I was somehow deficient compared to other people. I felt a constant need to reinvent myself and be more than I currently was to keep up with those around me.
Feeling good enough (and defining what good enough is) has been one of my biggest struggles and something I’ve realized will possibly be a lifelong process.
I’d like to share some of my experiences and talk about a few things I’ve found helpful for my own ongoing journey. If you also struggle to feel good enough as you are, I hope they are helpful for you too:
1. “Good enough” looks like different things in different contexts.
I used to set myself up for failure by telling myself something needed to be perfect to be good enough. Now, I’ve learned “good enough” exists on a spectrum, influenced by the situation, the context and other things that are happening in life, as well as my well-being, my values, and my priorities.
In her book Succeed, psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson explains it’s more helpful to focus on “getting better” rather than “being good.”
When we focus on the latter, we tend to tie our self-worth to achievement and see ourselves either as a success or a failure. With the former, we are more open to the idea that skills, capability, and achievement are malleable things we can influence with our beliefs and behavior.
When I tell myself the story that something has to go exactly to plan or it’s a total failure, I’m less likely to try things, I’m less open to feedback that will help me improve, and ultimately, I’m less likely to grow.
If I try something and it doesn’t work out, it might feel painful in the short-term, but I know I’ll feel much better (and prouder of myself) looking back and knowing I’ve tried than looking back at a missed opportunity.
I’ve also learned that it’s important to define “good enough” on my terms. Other people might have different ideas about what it means and looks like, but I can’t control that. Equally, there will always be someone who is smarter, more talented, more accomplished, more X and more Y than I am. The only person it’s helpful for me to compare myself to is me, yesterday.
2. I focus on who I want to be more than what I want to achieve.
Unhooking my self-worth from external achievement is still a work in progress, but one of the things I’ve found most helpful is focusing on the bigger picture. Sometimes this looks like asking myself, “How important is this particular thing going to be to me in ten years’ time?” (Usual answer: not very!). More often than not, it involves shifting from thinking about doing to being.
While many of us place a huge amount of stock on external achievement, there are usually many variables beyond our control that influence the outcome of a situation. Even if we do our best and do everything right, we might still feel “not good enough” because those external variables mean we didn’t get the gold star or top prize.
What we do have control over, however, are the qualities we embody. When I find myself slipping into “not good enough” thoughts, I find it helpful to stop and ask myself: Who do I want to be today? This reminds me I want to show up in my life as a creator, not as a victim, with compassion, not judgment, and calmly and wholeheartedly, rather than fighting an internal war.
3. I focus on all the things I’m getting right (as well as the things I think I’m getting wrong).
My inner critic is a champ at highlighting all the things I’m doing wrong and all the ways I could improve, usually with a big helping of shame and judgment on the side. A big part of my journey has been learning to turn down the volume on this part of my internal dialogue and turn up the volume on the part I call my inner mentor.
My inner mentor is also good at pointing out things I could improve, but she does it with a very different tone.
She is also a lot more question-orientated (while my inner critic throws statements around like confetti) and tends to ask open-ended queries like “How could you approach that situation differently in the future?”
She also balances constructive criticism with acknowledging all the things I’m getting right too.
I encourage my inner mentor with simple exercises like keeping a “have done” list (as opposed to a “to do” list) and taking time each week to reflect on positive experiences, new opportunities, things I feel proud of, and lessons learned.
4. I remember just because I think something doesn’t mean it’s true.
Like my companion at the beginning of this post, I can feel very alone when I’m in the grip of a “not good enough” episode.
During these times, and especially with the prevalence of curated social media feeds, it’s easy to look at other people’s lives and make all kinds of assumptions and judgments about how well things are going for them, even feeling a teensy bit resentful about how challenging our life feels compared to how easy theirs seems.
Having spent the best part of the last decade working with emotional support in one capacity or another, I’ve realized that “good enough” is not the result of circumstance, achievement, money, or success.
The Latin root of the word compassion is “suffering with.” Everyone feels like or fears they are not good enough at some point or another. Fearing that we are not good enough doesn’t make us not good enough; it just makes us human.
Remembering this helps me feel less alone, which enables me to start gently challenging that voice and asking “Is that really true?” “What are the other alternatives here?” “How would I respond if my best friend was telling me this?” and “Who would I be without this belief? What would I do differently?”
Finally, I’ve learned there isn’t a “one size fits all” way to feel comfortable and enough within ourselves. There are many different paths to the same destination, and the right path for us is the one that fits our values, feels truthful, and helps us connect with whom we truly are.
How do you navigate feeling not good enough in your own life? I’d love to hear what you find most helpful, so leave a comment and share your thoughts.