*** What would you do instead if you no longer had to prove your worth? ***
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 be “good enough” through professional achievements and what I’ve learned. That it gets so many reads has been interesting to observe and points to just 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 there 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 enoughness. There was very little that I did academically or workwise 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 enoughness an 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 hitting the mark — felt precarious. This all led to tremendous anxiety as I tried to control the world and myself to produce only the acceptable, “successful” 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.
How do you define “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 life 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 existence.
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. When I first came to understand my inherent worth, I felt like I just got the rest of my life back — no longer does my life need to be dictated by the insatiable need to meet externally defined measures of a good enough human. I am already worthy. I felt free.
When we understand our inherent worth 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. I began to explore who — if not this girl who strives and jumps hoops — I actually am. And explore what I genuinely enjoy and want to do with my time here. For the first time, I discovered what it’s like to do something for work from a place of genuine desire and because it brings me joy to do. And I’ve been coming to slowly learn that this is where your real career potential lies.
To come from a genuine desire is where your real career potential lies
Perhaps, as I had, you’ve gotten pretty far in life, at least on paper, motivated by proving yourself. But, it all really coming from a lot of fear, willpower, and pushing yourself, everything has likely felt like a ton of effort. And for good reason. When we force ourselves to do things, we’re working against ourselves and it’s exhausting.
But what would happen if you were doing something you enjoyed? Something you genuinely wanted to do? Something that filled your cup rather than depleting it? Does it not make sense that you’d likely excel at that too? Perhaps even more so? And with a lot less effort.
I’m finding for myself that doing something from a place of genuine desire and enjoyment can be much more powerful. It can be more effective in getting the positive results from your endeavors you want. When you’re enjoying what you do, you’re the right person to do this kind of work and it shows; people can feel it and it gets rewarded. And from an energy standpoint, it’s really the only long-term sustainable approach. Doing work I enjoy even gives me energy.
“Success” as an outcome, but without all the meaning it once had
Traditional markers of “success” are so often what we’re going for to prove our worth, my mind likes to try to trick me with thinking, “Ok, so if I come from desire, this is how I’ll ‘get ahead’ and be ‘successful’ and be enough.” The mind is sneaky and highly conditioned to the need to prove. I have to remind myself I’m doing what I do now not to prove, but because I want to and the enjoyment it brings. And I’m still finding “success” in the traditional sense, which is a real and likely outcome for you too if you follow your genuine desires, but it’s lost all the heavy meaning it once had. It could disappear tomorrow and I’m still enough.
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.
Some common thoughts and feelings you may have as you go through the process of uncovering what you want to do
While I won’t go into detail about what the process was like for me, I will share about some thoughts and feelings I experienced along the way (and at times still do) that I think are pretty common to others going through it for themselves. It’s not the easiest to navigate so being in the company of others who’ve been there or understand can help a lot.
Knowing we don’t want to do what we’re currently doing, but not yet knowing what we do want to do is scary and uncomfortable
Even though the truth is that everything in life is uncertain and we never really know our future, we feel safer when we feel like we can; when we can project a future in our mind. So, the mind sees our not knowing what’s next for us as an urgent problem to fix and we feel pressure to “figure this out.” But the thing is, this — finding your spark of authentic desire — is not something the mind can figure out. Instead, it comes from a deeper place inside you and it can’t be rushed.
Despite now knowing this, watch out for where your discomfort and fear may make you inclined to try to speed up the process and grab for something to do next, attempting to convince yourself it’s what you really want. Be honest with yourself or you risk having to start the process over when you finally realize that wasn’t it.
2. At first, you might not want to do much. It can take time to find your true desires
For me, until I found something that felt like I had an authentic desire to do, I really didn’t have much desire to do anything workwise. In the past, since all my motivation came from the need to prove myself, once I could see through this false story, I could no longer motivate myself in my old way. And that old way was exhausting. I was exhausted. So it makes sense that all I really wanted to do was rest when I can and take care of my weary self.
But, to be without motivation — without the fear of not being good enough propelling me forward — was disorienting and panicking. I was very scared a real authentic movement of desire would never emerge in me and I’d be lost floundering in this space trying to find it forever. But, rest assured, it doesn’t work that way. We naturally want to engage with the world in some way and will find what that way is for each of us. We just need a little (or for me what felt like a lot) of space and time to let go of old ideas of what the future would hold, to play in all the possibilities and find one that for now at least, feels pretty good.
3. Just because you now know you are enough just as you are doesn’t mean that the rest of the world has woken to their inherent worth too
You will continue to face messages (which appear to be everywhere) in our society that reinforce or try to get you to switch back to your old thinking. I also found it challenging to navigate my perception that others must be judging me and my decision to change my path. Until I was really solid in my knowing my worth, I experienced shame and hid myself, thinking I wouldn’t be understood. Which brings me to my next point…
In some instances, you won’t be understood. You may face pressure, questions and commentary from family members, a spouse/partner or friends who don’t yet understand the changes you’re making in your life and are fearful of what they might mean about your future and “success” in life. They’re likely (hopefully) coming from a place of love and concern — they just want what’s best for you. But you may need to remind them that only you can really know what that is and you’re on a personal journey to find it.
4. What about money?(!)
Perhaps one of the largest concerns that others might have, which you rightly so might have too, is money. Many of us have fears around what the money situation will be like if we change our job/career. The honest answer is I don’t know what it will be like for you. And right now, from where you’re sitting, especially if you don’t even know what it is you want to do next, neither do you.
Of course, we want to walk into things with our eyes open and I’m not suggesting you place yourself or family in any kind of financial peril, but you have to decide for yourself if you’re willing to stay in your current work just for the money or if it could be worth exploring your options, which could be just as good or better. Again, we don’t know. For me, it really wasn’t a decision and the issue was forced when I got sick. Same goes for those who I work with who find themselves so unhappy they’re just not able to keep going and something needs to change. You might have to get there too before you’re ready.
But also keep in mind what I mentioned before; there are a lot of potential upsides — financially included — to doing work you actually enjoy. When you offer something of value to the world from a genuine place, which also tends to means you excel at it, it gets rewarded. There are numerous examples of people who have ended up in some very lucrative situations that all started with the simple desire to do something they enjoy.
Lastly, on the money fears, remind yourself that if you decide to make a change your options are not to either succeed in it or be homeless. We tend to have some black and white thinking. In reality, you would find your way to something else. There’s often more than one thing we might like to do.
Taking the first step
I’m the first to admit that to claim your inherent worth, stop all the proving, and step into the unknown towards your desires can be scary. But that’s where the life you want to live — one that feels good to you because it actually honors who you are and what you enjoy is waiting for you. When you’re ready. ❤