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Why We Should All Stop Trying to Be Good Enough

Man Sitting Under Tree

“Only something as insane as human beings would ever asked themselves if ‘I’m good.’ You don’t find oak trees having existential crisis. ‘I feel so rotten about myself. I don’t produce as much acorns as the one next to me.’” ~Adyashanti

The feeling of not being good enough is widespread among the population regardless of age or social status. Even people who, from society’s standards, are highly successful may very well feel they are not good enough and that something is missing.

For most of my life, I suffered from that feeling of not being good enough.

When I joined a master’s degree program a year and half ago, I was shocked to see how smart some students in my class were. I was surrounded by people who had more work experience than me and were way more confident than I was.

Sometimes I felt stupid in their presence. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t find a way to contribute in class. Never befor had I felt such a deep sense of not being good enough.

Achieving, learning, or experiencing more never seemed enough to fix my issue. I started to seriously question whether anything I would accomplish could ever help me feel “good enough.”

I perfectly understood that there would always be people around me that are more confident, more attractive, smarter, richer, or more knowledgeable than I am, but this still didn’t make me feel better.

Since I always felt that my duty was to contribute to society, feeling that I couldn’t contribute as much as I would like to made it difficult for me to maintain a healthy self-esteem.

When it comes to self-worth, experts generally recommend using positive affirmations, learning to be more self-compassionate, or achieving small goals to create momentum and build confidence.

These techniques are certainly good ways to build self-esteem, and I used them personally with some success. However, it’s likely that they might be missing the point.

Rather than “How can I feel good enough?” wouldn’t a better question be: “Do I need to feel good enough?” or “Is it actually possible not to be good enough?”

Most people spend their life trying to be good enough, to be liked and appreciated, often without actually succeeding to fill a void within themselves. It’s insane to see how everyone tries so hard to be “somebody.”

I started wondering if, during all that time I spent trying to be good enough, I wasn’t actually fighting the wrong battle.

Our society conditions people to tie up their self-worth to how much they “contribute,” and that supposed “contribution” often refers to the amount of money we earn or our social status. Society creates an artificial duality between “successful” people and others.

Nowadays, the idea of success is a constant obsession. Media and personal development websites are continually talking about what more can be done to become more successful. Success has become the Holy Grail to pursue, the only path to living a life worth living and earning recognition from society.

However, I could easily come up with names of people that are regarded as “successful” from society’s standards, but are not from an objective point of view.

Interestingly, the definition of success is rarely explained. It seems as if we have all agreed with society’s definition. There appears to be very little space to question it; however, could the assumption under which we operate our life actually be false?

To be honest, this whole idea of good enough or not good enough is nonsense. I’m sure the doctor didn’t tell your parents when you were born that, “I’m sorry, but your son won’t be good enough.”

The entire paradigm of “good enough or not good enough” comes from the misconception that we need to become “somebody” and that other people have the power to determine our self-worth.

It is a mere product of social conditioning, not of reality, and it certainly doesn’t have to be that way!

Depending on your belief or reasoning, you could spend your entire life just meditating under a tree, doing absolutely nothing, and you would still be totally relevant as a human being.

So why don’t we get rid of that concept once and for all, discard it as irrelevant, and rebuild our life on a healthier assumption?

Being a total “failure” under society’s standards can never ever make you a failure as a human being. Nothing can turn you into a not-good-enough person without your consent, without you buying into the current fallacious assumption that society is telling you to live under.

Sure, you might have failed at many of the things you’ve tried and some of your friends might be more “successful” than you are, but then, does that mean you are not good enough? Does that really mean you are not worthy?

If you buy into society’s expectations, yes, probably. If you don’t, the question then cannot be answered, because it’s irrelevant!

A tree doesn’t have self-esteem issues. A bird doesn’t ask itself, “Am I good enough?” Why should you?

Are your attempts to become somebody actually working? If not, it might be time for you to stop trying to be “somebody” and just relax.

Imagine the sense of freedom that you would experience if you were to stop trying to be “good enough.” Suddenly, the burden you’ve being carrying on your shoulders would become lighter.

You could then enjoy your time with others without trying to impress them. You’d be able to free up your energy for more creative purposes. Suddenly, you could just be yourself.

The greatest and wisest spiritual teachers of all time stopped trying to be somebody because they realized that it was not possible. If after all those years of inquiry and self-reflection they came to that conclusion, is it possible that they were on to something?

So do you really need to be good enough? Are you fighting the right battle? This is something you might want to meditate on. It might require some time before you can change your former conception, but isn’t it worth trying?

Personally, I chose to fight less and to progressively distance myself from the battlefield. I’m not “not good enough” or “good enough.” I am just who I am and that’s more than enough!

Man sitting under tree image via Shutterstock

About Thibaut Meurisse

Thibaut Meurisse is the founder of http://whatispersonaldevelopment.org. Passionate about personal development, he dedicates his life to finding the best possible ways to durably transform both his life and the lives of others. Download his free e-book “The 5 Commandments of Personal Development” on his website to discover the 5 principles you shall master in order to live a full life.

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  • Susan Mary Malone

    Love this, Thibaut. It was once a huge nemesis of mine, and still rears its ugly head now and then! I can really work with: “Do I need to feel good enough?” That puts a quite different perspective on things! Thank You.

  • leila

    I find this post very enlightening and it seemed to come at just the right time

    I am learning self acceptance and appreciating myself as I truly am. Thank you Thibaut. Be blessed.

  • FLeFlore

    Without explicitly saying as much, this article makes a strong case for why we should avoid comparing ourselves to others.

  • Thibaut

    Thank you for your message. When we realize that what we really are deep down is never changing, as opposed to our current identity that is solely made of believes and memories, then it becomes easier. I feel that focusing on the sense of “I am” rather than I am such and such is a great way to separate your being from your person, which is nothing more than a role you play in society. You don’t need to try to make your person feel good enough, you just need to realize that your person is your being having fun on earth NOT you! Hope that makes sense. Bless you too 😉

  • Thibaut

    Thank you for your message. Trying to be good enough is a lost battle. What you are is more than your person or identity. If we suck at a person so what? Things are easier when we don’t take our person too seriously. The less we believe ourselves to be a person, the less we take things personally!
    Here is a great quote from Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj:
    “Once you realize that the person is merely a shadow of reality, but no the reality itself, you cease to fret and worry. You agree to be guided from within and life becomes a journey into the unknown.”

  • Thibaut

    Glad you love it. I like the following quote from Wayne Dier:
    “I am a human being, not a human doing. Don’t equate your self-worth with
    how well you do things in life. You aren’t what you do. If you are what
    you do, then when you don’t…you aren’t.”
    I think the only thing we really need to do in life is to realize what we are.

  • Lots of people for many years have tried to keep up with the Jones when all that matters is their own life. You are good enough, you are worth it, you can do it, you are loved, you are wanted, you are great!

    Take care

    Glen

  • raychil

    Awesome article but I have most enjoyed your replies to comments! Very thought provoking. Its easy to forget we r simply beings having an experience on earth as a person. Thanks very much for sharing.

  • Like a feather

    Very kind yet sound advice. More tangible than simply saying Love Thyself. Thank you.

  • Satish

    Sort of “Empty boat”

  • Satish

    Nice article. This is exactly where I was. Trying to be good, intelligent, handsome etc. etc. Now I care less of who I am. If people laugh at me so be it. I stopped complaining and accepted what I am. Feeling happy.

  • Thibaut

    Great to hear that. We are changing all the time anyway. Who cares about what happened 5 minutes ago? Past events have only the power we give them. If people laugh at you, laugh with them.

  • Thibaut

    Thanks for your message. I worte an article on my blog entitled “Are You Really Creating Value For Society” where I talk about that. (http://whatispersonaldevelopment.org/really-creating-value-society)
    Put it simply, I believe that our main purpose should be to make the world a happier place. However, it is perfectly possible to love your job, but not to create real value for society. For instance, you may love marketing, but is the product your company is selling really making your customers happy or is your company simply tapping into people’s insecurity (I’m not good enough, I want to look cool, I want to be fashionable, I want to look prettier…). The latter case is generally true. The current consumer society is based on the false assumption that “more is better”, that we need more to be happy. It is an ego-based society that makes companies and, at the same time, consumers ego very happy. The underlying assumption is “we are not good enough”.
    Yes, as much as possible we should strive to do a meaningful work but it is not always possible.

  • Noble Creed

    Its nice to see this wisdom taught to everyone, I realized it after I did engineering and still never found peace and never realized my worth because everywhere I looked at there was someone better than me. Then one of my senior enggnr working for a social service organization taught me to stop fighting for self worth as it will lead to me nowhere, there will always be someone I will fail to satisfy, so live life without seeking recognition for anything I do. Live it as a journey to death, everything in between is just another beautiful event not an Olympics match

  • Thibaut

    Thank you for your comment. Most people have this feeling of not being good enough. It starts very young as we get conditioned to feel good when we are praised and feel bad when we are criticized. We then start to believe that our self-worth depends on how others perceive us. We forgot our intrinsic and unarguable worth.
    What I’ve started realizing recently is that trying not to care about what people think of you is not enough. We can’t decide to feel good when people praise us and feel nothing when they criticize us. We must make a choice. I believe that If we really want to stop caring about what people think of us, we must learn not to feel good when we are praised. I doubt nobody ever told you that.
    As long as praises affect you, you are unconsciously accepting to join the game “my self-worth depends on other’s opinions”. As you start observing your behaviors and your feelings and get less and less affected by other people’s praise, you will feel less affected by their criticisms.
    Anthony de Mello as an awesome video on that https://youtu.be/8b8TLQh4Q84?t=3h26m31s

  • Black Bart

    I don’t know thibault.. you seem like a smart guy to me. I was in one of those grad programs once…where everyone seems like golden nuggets of wisdom and truth fly from their lips. Truth is, they’re just as scared as everyone else about looking bad or sounding dumb. I fought the “good enoughs” for a long time…. still do…. but not as bad as it used to be…aging helped with that. Product of an upper middle-class upbringing here…. do more, achieve more, earnmore. IIt’s all fine, well and good if it truly makes you happy to pursue a huge important job, 4,000 sq ft house, 3 kids in private school and matching silver Mercedes. But if it doesn’t, or you are just doing it for society’s approval, then forget about it. Do what the author says… be yourself. Have some fun. Realize that none of it is that important anyways and just be.

  • I absolutely love this post. So insightful on the false pressure we choose to put on ourselves. At the end of the day, our thoughts are our choice, no one else’s. I’m definitely going to start to live by some of the points you made in this article. Thank you

  • shea oneil

    I love this quote at the top: “Only something as insane as human beings would ever asked themselves if ‘I’m good.’ You don’t find oak trees having existential crisis. ‘I feel so rotten about myself. I don’t produce as much acorns as the one next to me.’” ~Adyashanti
    I feel like a tree that has acorns that no one appreciates, and that I am not being watered, and I am going to lose all my acorns and die unappreciated and miserable…. does a tree worry about that kinda stuff if it is not cared for properly… or if it has a disease? I mean they are asexual so they got THAT going for them… they don’t hae to worry about finding another tree… or maybe they do and that’s why they produce all that pollen that drives my allergies crazy… certainly different set of problems for a tree than a person…
    Does a tree worry about dying? Or not being loved? Is that what motivates a tree to make flowers at a certain time, and seeds at a certain time, and drop its leaves at a certain time and gain them at another… based on what type of environment it is in and how that is making them feel about life?
    I think trees do have existential crises!!! And I think I am having one right now… but it is OK, because, like the tree, I will do what needs to be done to adjust myself seasonally to achieve the balance to live… and I hope insects and weather and people are about me too that will help by seeing we all benefit by each others happiness….

  • Thibaut

    Thanks for your message. I’m not a tree but I don’t believe that trees have an existential crisis. They would need a mind to think in order to have such a problem. Human beings who transcend their mind would tell you that they don’t see any problem. If even human beings can say that how could trees have problems. There is no problem in reality, only in the human mind. Concepts like good enough/not good enough exists only in the mind.

    You said you feel like you are going to die unappreciated. The question is: do you need to be appreciated? If so, why? Because you feel like you are not good enough. Coming back to the topic of this article: is it possible not to be good enough?

    Here is a great quote from Anthony de Mello (check his videos on Youtube they are an absolute must!!!)
    “You know what they are telling you? You need to be loved, you need to be a success, you need to be approved, you need to be appreciated, you need to be affirmed, you need… Rubbish! And everybody is believing this! I’ll tell you what you need. There is only one need and believe me it is coming – all right you can say I’m wrong. Fine – this comes from many years, many years of lots of reflection. There is only one need, there is only one emotional need and that is to love, to love! No other.” – Anthony De Mello

  • Shea O’Neil

    Trees respond to positive and negative changes in the environment and also to patterns and tendencies, in its effort to gain energy to feed itself with sunlight, water, and nutrients and avoid pain. Somewhere in its system there is something like a mind. And there is a reception of knowledge inside of it and a responsive expression of that knowledge in an action. It might not have as much time to play with ideas and make decisions about its response like a human does,, but there is got to be something like a mind at work in its system. I didn’t say that I felt like I was dying because I was not being appreciated. I was more dying because I’m not being fed.. maybe appreciation is a food that I like to eat but also it is that love that one gets in response to the gift it produces. For instance, I take really good care of my orange tree in my yard because it produces oranges that I like to eat and I pick the oranges and eat them when they’re ripe and I water the tree and I get nutrients and care for it. But me its like I produce oranges and then they just get really heavy and heavy and start to ripen and over-ripen and then fall and bugs come around and eat them and then give me diseases and so it’s just kind of sad for the the orange tree (me, metaphorically) that no on enjoys the oranges from the tree and responds by adding nutrients and water when mother nature herself does not. . and its not even like the seeds inside the oranges are going to go into the ground and grow another tree, because there’s not enough nutrients in the ground to barely keep me alive. I guess that is the curse of being a single mother. Sure, love would be great.

  • Sinpa

    your article is giving me a big push forward. I spent a lot of energy, these days, thinking how bad I am comparing to people of my age, but I feel released now, and even more enthusiastic about learning and progressing.
    I will be trying to keep your precious ideas in mind.
    It was much helpful, I appreciate it 🙂

  • Thibaut

    Thanks for your message. Not being good enough is a conditioning it is not reality! Some people spend their entire life trying to be good enough including the most “successful” people in the world, but there just chasing an illusion. Is it you that need to be good enoug or is it your self-image? Are you your self-image?

  • Thibaut

    I don’t know what are these oranges you are mentioning are refering to and I don’t know you, but one thing I would say is that maybe you have to much expectations. Personally, I’m having less and less expectations. I do what I feel like doing and expect nothing in return. We don’t have to be puppets that are happy when we are praised and loved and miserable when we are criticized. There is more in us. There is something that is worthier than any of that.
    Can we give our gift without expecting love or appreciation in return? Can we love without expecting to be loved in return?

  • Shea O’Neil

    I do have expectations like I expect that if you’re dating somebody for 2 years and a serious relations and he says he wants a family and you know you do ,you happen to get pregnant and you start to become really allergic to his dog and cats that yeah I had the expectation that when the doctor told me I could die if I’m still around the cats and dogs because my reactions were becoming anaphylactic, and it was dangerous for me, and the baby, that the guy would find a home for his cats and dogs instead of kick me and the baby out of the house with nothing. then when I found a home with my parents I expected that he didn’t bring stuff with cat and dog dander all over into my home but he did and I got sick and nearly died. then I expected that he not be allowed to visit the baby and I until he found a home for his cats and dogs and yet here he is getting visitation with my son without me because the law made it so. and now he’s going to try to take my son to his house for the dogs are even though my son is allergic to them and it’s a big mean unchained dog bite him and well this guy is now with his new girlfriend and not offering to anything to us I expected that he would just stay out of my life but he won’t and he’s trying to take my son to show him off to people even though he doesn’t do anything to take care of me or my son. in general I expected more from life out of this but I definitely expected more from him. I want a life where I am made a priority when me and my son are like the best people in the world that the father is there trying to make money for our family and take us on trips and do fun things together that’s the life I expected. I do want food and clothing and a roof over my head for my son and I. and you know who used to say I just do what I want and just maybe you should lower your expectations of me you know who used to say that to me his father when I used to talk to him. now he just goes out to bars and spends money on lingerie for his girlfriend and lives in a giant house it doesn’t offer anything to anybody that’s good? probably to you who has no expectations and just does what he wants to do all day long– and I expected more from people not some woman to come in a week after a guy has a child and i in some kind of freak out mode sweep him up for her own selfish reasons not caring that he has responsibilities to other people. no this guy doesn’t pay any child support but he pays for this girl but you know what, she’s not the mother of my son and she never will be and its wrong for them to be taking my son from me on any days and it is wrong what happened to me in general on so many levels. and no I don’t think my expectations are too high I want to shelter I want food I want love and care I want to be able to give those things to my son and the oranges that I produce are well I have a degree in psychology, I pretty much got that so I’d be able to conquer psychological marketing schemes and other things that throw people off from their true morals and identity and to be able to fight against social pressures, or things like alcoholism and addiction that are so common today because it’s not an easy world to live in today, nor is it an easy culture. my oranges are I know how to cook and I know how to go shopping at the grocery store and get fresh organic vegetables that are not tainted with who knows what poisins and pesticides.. and I know how to turn those vegetables into delicious meals and I’m trying to learn how to grow those vegetables on my own organically but it’s really difficult because it does good soil and there’s no good soil here. my oranges are I can bear children, … and teach them things like how to use the toilet and give them baths and take care of them where they’re small. I have lots of gifts and right now I’m suffering just trying to get my health back and keep my son and I fed and supported because the person who was supposed to be helping us with that is just not. so I’m just trying to deal with that difficulty that comes when the person you expected something from and that society expects something from and that’s the role makes them responsible for is not living up to their expectations. and it doesn’t appear that I nor anyone else in society is going to change that or help be able to help them and so I’m just going to have to deal with this my whole life… which if he’s allowed to bring cat and dog dander into my home again probably won’t be long, but so he better not and I’m not allowing him to but the law better support that and he also better not make my son go to his house when he has those dogs are I am going to just freaking freak out… which is the other thing that I’m upset about any money that I had before any resources I had to help me I had to use to get a lawyer just a fight for those two things for my son a nice life.. because otherwise I was told it’s a given that the guy will pretty much be able to do what he wants and the only reason he can afford a lawyer because he doesn’t pay child support and he doesn’t pay for anything he doesn’t even pay at his house anymore he’s just living there like squatting and he doesn’t pay his taxes and he’s just a big jerk thief. Eow… I really feel.better saying that all.

  • LaTrice Dowe

    I had my heart set on going to college when I was in high school. I wanted to get a glimpse of what the college life was like, so I would go to the library to check out video cassettes. Both of my parents told me that they didn’t want me to attend college out of state, which comes with a hefty price tag. I felt discouraged, since my parents wouldn’t allow me to expand my horizons.

    My high school counselor told me that I didn’t have to take a foreign language class if I were to attend college in the same state. It was all right with me, and I wanted to avoid take a Spanish class with honors. When I told my parents about that, they were furious with me. I hated failure, and I was concerned about flunking the Spanish class. In order to get my parents to shut their mouths, I signed up for Spanish. I was able to ace the class with a B+.

    I’m graduating with a BA in Sociology this December, and I’m looking forward to it. I had to stop comparing myself to others, because I’m NOT like everyone else. This article does encourage those to try their best, and even if they’ve failed, as least they knew they tried. Don’t give up without a fight.

  • Thibaut

    Wooo! Thanks for sharing that!!! And if you feel better that’s even better.
    I hope things will get better for you and that you will be able to move on with your life forgetting about your ex boyfriend and forgiving him (as difficult ans it might probably feel now).
    Totally agree with you on the importance of psychology.
    Wish you all the best.

  • Thibaut

    Thanks for your message.
    Congratulation on your coming graduation and good luck on your future career.
    Failure is fine as long as we learn from it. Not comparing ourselves to others is one of the hardest thing to do but also one of the most important.

  • Shanker

    Hi Thbaut,
    You have touched a great issue that all most everyone face through out our life. I’ve this problem too. I agree that it is time we question this social expectation. Thanks!