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Why You Aren't Enough

At a speaking event for a group of women last month, I was asked how I manage negative self talk. Now, I've been asked this a lot, and I do have an answer, but I also know my answer isn't as important as exploring the question. So, I gestured to the audience and said, "First tell me what your negative self-talk says." Hands shot up around the room and one by one, the women answered. "I don't have enough time." "I'm not smart enough." "I'm not doing enough with my career." "I'm not there enough for my kids."

On and on and on. While deeply personal to each woman, it's what I've heard time and time again after any speaking engagement to an all-female audience: the overwhelming consensus that the smart, talented, gorgeous women in front of me do not think they are enough.

"Okay then," I responded. "Name a man, any man, that you look at and think, 'Wow, he is enough.'"

The group laughed. But not the laugh a group does when they hear the conclusion of a funny story or a strong joke. They laughed in the nervous way anyone does when confronted with a truth they were never conscious of before. The way you might react when someone points out to you that paprika is just ground up peppers and you are grappling with this new knowledge while also processing your own stupidity for having never once considered what paprika is, and instead, having held an untested assumption that it was extracted from a rare plant in the Brazilian rain forest.

So when asked if these women had ever sized up a man as "enough," they were suddenly confronted with the truth that they don't think about if others are enough. But also that they do hold an untested assumption that that was what others thought about them.

Now, here's an even deeper nuance to what these women were saying that day. They weren't wondering and worrying if they were good enough. They were convinced they just weren't enough. Do you see the difference there? It's as if a car isn't wondering if it's fast enough, safe enough, or sporty enough, but actually wondering if it even is, in fact, a car.

Having heard this narrative among women in audiences I've spoken to, or from my students, and even from my own internal critic for decades now, I can safely say that enough is enough.

If we are all collectively thinking this, then we can all collectively stop thinking this. And here's how:

Understand Who Holds the Yardstick

When we worry about if we are enough, we clearly believe that someone, somewhere is measuring us. But who? Why? And are they fans of Taylor Swift? The idea that we don't feel like we are enough means that there is some unit of measurement against which we are being gauged.

If so, who's the keeper of the yardstick? Because I'd like a word.

Invariably, those holding the yardstick have something to gain from you. Said differently, you feeling like you aren't enough is intentional. Just look at what that uncomfortable feeling makes you do. When women don't feel like they are enough at work, you know what they do? They work harder. When women don't feel like they are enough at home, you know what they do? Clean more. When women don't feel like they are enough in their bodies, you know what they do? Diet, Botox, makeup, clothes, nails, and any other consumable industry that is working hard to hold tight to the yardstick.

Feeling like you are not enough is not an internal feeling. It's an external force. (Just think about "Mom Guilt"). And the more you feel it, the more they get you to work harder, clean more, and weigh less.

Keep very close tabs on who is measuring you. Because three things will always be true: 1) They have kept the measurement a secret so 2) they can easily move the goalpost in an effort to 3) gain something from your anguish.

Build Your Own Rubric

If there's one thing I've learned from years in the classroom, it's that you have to be incredibly clear about how you plan to assess a student. Early on, I thought I could be cool and relaxed and say things like, "Write what moves you, 5-30 pages, turn it in when it feels right." But all that created was a kind of angst that is only born out of unclear (and therefore unkind) expectations. Once I realized that my approach was causing panic and anxiety, I leaned the other way. And wouldn't you know it, with a clear expectation for the class and transparent rubrics for assignments, the work improved and the anxiety diminished.

That angst the students felt from not knowing what I expected of them is the exact angst we feel as women who aren't sure if we are enough. That angst only happens when we do not know the unit of measurement.

So here's the solution: build your own rubric. Even though, yes, I'll admit, coming up with our own measures of success is hard and frankly, doesn't feel right. After all, if I started to decide on my own that I was beautiful enough, or that my skin was aging well enough, then what happens to Jennifer Garner touching her face sensually after splashing it with a tidal wave of sink water to hawk a product that says I haven't achieved beautiful enough or ageless enough just yet? She and I are in the cycle of doom together!

Growing up, my mother cooked every meal and we ate, as a family, at the kitchen table while we talked about our days. My mother was (is) a great cook, and (whether it was or not) she always made dinnertime seem effortless. She never seemed burdened by the constant meal planning, purchasing, prepping, and presenting. If the dirty dishes bothered her I never noticed. But flash forward 20 years and I'm in tears most weeks over going to the grocery store so damn much, cooking dinner every night, getting my teeny kids to sit still through a meal, only to be left with a stack of dishes almost entirely covered by the food I had cooked but no one liked.

And for that, I spent years thinking I wasn't enough.

Eventually, with the help of Jim, I let go of that rubric my mother seemed to so effortlessly live by. It didn't work for me, my family, or our appetites. I began to wonder what would happen if we got take-out a few times a week and ate on the couch? Would the world implode? Would shame be brought down upon my family? Would the police pound on the door and demand, "Where's the chicken cacciatore and cloth napkins?"

Oddly, none of that happened. In fact, nothing at all happened except that I felt better. Finally relieved of expectations that I couldn't live up to, and frankly, didn't want to.

Change the rubrics you use on yourself. And might I suggest Kung Pao chicken on the living room floor while introducing your kids to The Office?

Imagine What Enough Would Feel Like

When I ask a woman why she doesn't feel like she's enough, she will invariably tell me about her "To-Do" list. The horrifyingly long list of tasks she needs to get done. And after she waxes exhaustedly about this list, I always ask, "And who makes the list?"

She'll sputter and blink and then come back at me with, "You don't get it, this stuff has to get done!" And, if I'm being feisty, I'll say, "By you?" Then she will sigh and shake her head and question why she is talking to me, but even still, I stand by this, and here's why.

Most ambitious, hard-working women I know are list-makers. They will make a list of things that have to get done--tasks that only they can do. And guess what happens when all the tasks on the list are marked out?

These women breathe a sigh of relief! They take off their bras and spin around and around in their wheelie chair! They book a spa day. They finally relax!

I'm kidding, you fool. They make a new list!

A longer one!

A harder one!

They might even color-code it! Stickers might be involved! After all, stationery is a $6 billion industry, and guess who their main market is?

When questioned about the list, they will say, "Oh, I just feel so accomplished when I check stuff off." And, if I'm feeling feisty, I'll ask, "So you currently feel accomplished?" And they will furrow their brows and say, "Well, no, because there are still things on my list."

You see the cycle?

What would it even look like to be done with the list? What would it feel like? How would things be different? Because the thing you did last week was in an effort to make you feel like you were enough and yet, do you? Do you feel like you're enough?

No! Because 1) you've allowed someone else to make your measurement, 2) you've allowed the goal post to move, and 3) you've allowed the notebook industry to push you into compulsively making lists and now 4) you have no idea what enough would even look like.

What it would feel like.

What a blank piece of paper with no tasks on it would mean to you.

Am I suggesting you just don't make lists? God no. The world would, in fact, end the moment your list-making stopped. Just as you predicted.

But I am suggesting that you get extremely clear on what the list is in service to. I think sometimes my lists help me feel worthy of rest. If I can enumerate all these things I've done today, maybe I can chill out tonight. How many times have I sent a handful of emails and then texted Jim at 10am: "It's been a day. I will not be cooking tonight."

Rest is not to be earned. Neither is my worthiness.

Point is: stop using the list as a means to an end when you never let it reach the end. Stop acting like your efforts are in service to making you feel like enough, when you never allow yourself to feel like you're enough.

Try this: close your eyes (not yet, you need to read what's next) and imagine a world where all of your work is done and you feel like you are enough. What would be different? Would you relax? Would you feel happy? Would you dance? Would you shave your head or book a plane ticket or sleep harder or accept love or feel peaceful?

Whatever it is, that will not happen when if it cannot happen now. And the more lists you make, and energy you expend, and goals you accomplish in the future won't get you any closer to something you can't let yourself feel in the present.

Because here's the thing: I can't tell you you're enough because you won't believe me. Trust me, I've tried with audiences, friends, clients, students, my daughters, and the mirror. You can't be told you are enough and just accept it. That's the most damning part of all--deep down we believe someone or something out there is going to award us with "being enough," and yet the moment someone tries to do just that, we refuse to believe them.

So all that's left to do, if you really want to feel like you're enough, is take every thought you've ever had to the contrary and say:

Okay, that's enough.


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