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A large source of traffic to my website is from people Googling some variation of “I don’t feel good enough.” I wrote a blog post about never feeling good enough a couple of years ago that seems to get a lot of clicks from Google search results. In the post, I share about my own journey with trying to prove I’m “good enough” through professional accomplishments and what I’ve learned. That it gets so many reads has been interesting to observe and points to how many people struggle with feeling like they are enough.
While it may manifest and impact people in different ways, perhaps my experience of it and the way it interfered with – controlled – my life is relatable to some. And in the path I took to free myself from constant proving there may be some helpful pointers for those also wondering if they will ever get “there” and feel enough.
To be “good enough” as the underlying motivation of your career choices
In the past, everything in my life – especially professionally/career-wise – was motivated by a desire to prove or achieve being enough. There was very little that I did that came from any genuine wanting to do it. Everything I did, I did because I thought I “should” – it would give me a stamp of approval, allow me to fit in, meet expectations, be worthy of love (the last one being what I think our desire to be enough is really about).
I found any sense of being enough a professional achievement brought was fleeting as the next thing to work toward came into focus; there was no rest, no finish line. And while I wasn’t able to articulate why at the time, I always felt that no accomplishment ever deep down really made me feel enough. Because, to approach being enough as something to be earned – predicated on me getting it “right” – felt precarious. This all led to tremendous anxiety as I tried to control the world and myself to produce only the acceptable outcomes. It was exhausting, laborsome and ultimately unsustainable.
Eventually, my body collapsed from all the stress of constant pushing and striving. I developed a physical illness that forced me to stop everything. It was then that I took the time to examine what was really motivating me. And when I unpacked this ever-present feeling of “I’m not good enough” I could see clearly for the first time how just how untrue and destructive it is. Much could be said, but a few realizations that I think are worth sharing shifted my thinking.
Examining the concept of “good enough”
First, when asking myself what good enough even means I couldn’t come up with a strong answer. How do you define “good enough”? Good enough to whom? For what? In what context? When you really ask these questions to yourself the concept completely falls apart. It’s even slightly funny to think how much our lives can be entirely fixated on achieving something we can’t really put our finger on; and on getting somewhere, “arriving” someplace that doesn’t really exist.
Second, because it is so nebulous and impossible to pin on anything – any external circumstance or situation that would provide a seal of “being enough” – it follows that our worth must be inherent in our very existence. This I now believe to be the truth. You are and have always been enough, just as you are. To believe otherwise, you will spend your life working to achieve things that, if you’re like me, you don’t even really care about other than for their utility in signaling your worth to the world.
Where did this idea of needing to prove you are “good enough” come from?
If our worth is inherent, I then have to wonder why it took me so many years to know this. Why did I ever believe and feel it was something to be earned and proven through my endeavors? Where did this belief come from? And why do I still at times feel this way even now when I know it’s not true?
Well, I’ll just say that this is where my liberal arts degree background could write an essay talking about social, political and economic structures. I won’t now, but I think you can see where I’m going with this. The thing to consider is that the belief that external conditions dictate our value has come from these constructs. And like other beliefs that are instilled by our collective societal conditioning, such as, for example, that money will equal happiness, they fail to be true, sending us on a fool’s errand. And they fail to come close to touching on the actual truth of what is nourishing to a human life.
The freedom to discover what you genuinely want to do
The realization that I am – we all are – already enough was pivotal in helping me make changes in my career and move into work that I actually enjoy. Once we see that we don’t need to try to prove our worth through our work, our future is no longer dictated by shoulds and all the things we have laid out before us as our path to being enough. The space opens up for us to value what we actually want and have a genuine desire to do for work. What we actually enjoy doing can come to the forefront, no longer taking the place of a distant secondary concern.
So, how do you find what you genuinely want to do?
For some, perhaps they’ve known for a long time and hidden a secret desire to do a particular thing. This was not me. I had no clue. Because frankly, it never mattered what I wanted. All that mattered was what I should do to be enough. So, my inner workings and what lit me up inside were unexamined. And for a long time after freeing myself from the grip of needing to prove myself, while I very much (almost desperately and frantically) wanted to know what I really wanted to do for work, it remained unknown.
As I then learned, no one in my position uncovers their heart’s desire and passion overnight. It unfolds as you start to unravel the scaffolding that you’ve built around yourself and mistook for the real you. It’s revealed over time as you peel back the layers upon layers of beliefs held about who you are, who you think you should be and what’s possible for you. Slowly, you begin to find the smallest, faintest spark of the authentic you, authentic enjoyment and desire. This is some of the kind of work I do with my career coaching clients. You’re dissolving down your former identity, the one oriented around proving your worth, and finding yourself. It’s a process. And I’ll admit the process isn’t necessarily easy to navigate, but I’ve found it’s very much worth it.
February 1, 2019 at 12:15PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs