I spent most of my life feeling “not good enough.” Can you relate? That’s actually a rhetorical question. Most of the people I know feel this way. It’s as if we all come with the “not good enough” chip implanted in our mind. It’s not always obvious it’s there though. We might have to do some digging to find the string of thoughts.
For example: "I’m feeling upset." Why? "Because my boss didn’t like the work I did on this project I worked so hard on." Why is that bad? "Because then I might not get a promotion this year and my colleagues will." What does that mean? "I’m not good enough." Yup, and there it is.
I used to be the poster child of feeling “not good enough.” And while it can manifest in people in different ways, some trying to prove their worthlessness through self-destruction, I went in the opposite direction, pushing hard to prove my worth through achievement. For years, I grasped onto external, socially defined goals, telling myself that when I achieved them, I’d be enough. I never said that directly to myself, but that was the underlying motivation for the goal. To feel ok. Like I’m ok. I stack up. I’m enough. There was no other reason to pursue the goal than that. But, as I think you know, that feeling never comes. The goal comes and goes and you’re on to the next one. The bar moves. Constantly.
And that’s just the bigger picture striving for “good enough.” There’s also navigating the nuances of the day-to-day that make for a minefield of possible “not good enough” triggers - relationship dynamics with your partner or colleagues, interactions with strangers in Starbucks, overheard office politics at work. All these situations have the potential to unconsciously make your mind weave its way through a series of thoughts that lead back to “I’m not good enough.” On the surface you may feel stressed, sad, uneasy, angry, but if we were to look closer, it’d be there.
Why is all this a problem? Aside from making us feel pretty terrible about ourselves, the “I’m not good enough” chip is a problem because we end up unconsciously operating from this place. It drives our life choices, relationships, what we say and do. It can drive our whole life if we let it. Constantly trying to do and be everything we think we need to do and be to be enough. Let’s think about this for a moment. If you let “I’m not good enough” drive, you’re not in charge of your life, especially when all the things you think you have to do and be are externally defined - by society, by culture, by family, by our peer-group. And then they’re constantly changing. No wonder we never get 'there'.
The funny thing is that the whole concept of “good enough” unravels when you investigate it. What does good enough even mean? Good enough for what? To whom? How much would you need to achieve to be enough? What would you have to get or be to be enough? To feel enough? If you take the time to contemplate I think you’ll see that we’re approval seeking from something that only exists in our mind. And it’s never satisfied, we’ll spend our whole lives trying to please it. Yes, our whole lives. We will spend our whole lives trying to make our external circumstances just so - achieving, being and doing the “right” things to signal your worth to the world. Yes, our whole lives…...or until we decide to stop.
Yes, you can decide to stop. Although you’re approval seeking from something that exists in your mind, it’s not actually you. It’s all coming from external sources that you’ve internalized. You can break free from that. You can choose to stop allowing external circumstances to dictate your worth. To do anything other than that is craziness when you think about it. There’s no winning. You can’t control the world and will spend your life anxious and stressed out trying to only create outcomes that (to you) mean you’re ok. And deep down, for myself and I’m sure others, you don’t even genuinely care about those things/goals/achievements etc. The real you never decided you wanted to do them in the first place. You’re not doing them because they bring you joy, you just picked up somewhere that’s what’s required to be “enough.”
So, step one is deciding you’re going to stop this craziness. Decide, you are ok no matter what the external circumstances are, no matter what you have or haven’t achieved. Step two, is looking a layer deeper at where the “not good enough” feelings are coming from. We all deeply want to feel love and be lovable through being good. That’s what this is really about. Love. Loving yourself, feeling loved by others.
None of our efforts to “be good enough” will ever give us this sense of love and ok-ness. Even if we achieve something on our list which on paper should make us feel good or enough, deep down we don’t feel it because we know it’s not real. It’s based on something we did and had to earn. It’s not us, it’s what we did. And that makes any sense of enough fleeting, precarious, conditional and not to be trusted. Our minds are smart like that. As meditation teacher Tara Brach, says, we’ll only feel the real deal, feel enough, feel love and lovable when we’ve had to put in no effort towards achieving it and are just ourselves. Experience being loved for being ourselves, just the way we are.
We can start with a practice of loving ourselves. I say practice, because that’s what it takes; practice. To undo the years of conscious and unconscious thought patterns that make self-love conditional will take time and patience. But think of what your life could be like without the “not good enough” chip. I’m serious. What would your life be like if you lost the ability to think “I’m not good enough”? What do you feel? Freedom? Ease? Peace? Love? That’s available to you right now and all the time if you decide. If you decide you are enough, you are ok, just the way you are. And you are. Promise.