Posted by: scintillatingspeck | March 21, 2010

What does it mean to be good enough?

I have been contemplating this question lately.  What does it mean to be good enough?  Or to be more specific, what would I need in order to feel that I am good enough?

Now it would be nice to get all Zen about this and practice radical self-acceptance and declare that I am good enough, everything is as it should be, end of story.  If it were that easy, surely I would have figured this out decades ago.  I am forced to conclude that this is beyond my rational abilities to figure out.

In ways large and small, I carry my gargantuan load of cultural baggage.  I’m a woman brought up to believe that I must always strive harder, be better, be more competitive, be brilliant, and also be kind and compassionate and patient, and also be beautiful and thin and healthy, and also be selfless and giving and an amazing parent, and also be endlessly giving to my community, and also fulfill the dreams of my ancestors for “success.”  That’s the tip of the iceberg.  Why should it be any wonder that I am constantly full of self-doubt and never feel good enough?  Haven’t I looked at all of this baggage before?  Obviously being aware of it is not sufficient to banish the feeling of inadequacy.

I guess I’m still looking outside myself for some sort of confirmation that I’m okay, that my choices are okay, that I’m not screwing up all the time.  Who could ultimately decide that I’m okay?  Why would I want to empower other fallible humans with that decision?  If I can’t feel okay all by myself, can anyone really have the power to make me feel legitimate and competent?

Why is this coming up for me lately?  It’s always there, to be sure, but it seems especially acute in the past week or two.  I have a few ideas.  And making a numbered list may give me the illusion of mastery, so here goes:

1. The world feels out of control.  It’s easier to dump blame on myself and suffer the consequences of that than to walk around in a state of constant fear, grief, and rage at the state of the world.  (I won’t list all the reasons the world feels out of control; if you can’t imagine at least half a dozen reasons, you will not understand.  So be it. )  There is a habitual, worn track in my mind that leads to self-blame and deep dark depression and crippling anxiety, and I know that part of it is an attempt to wrest control from the uncontrollable.

2. It is really, really hard to be a parent.  There is nothing like being a parent to make you feel stupid, inadequate, ill-prepared, and incompetent sometimes.  It’s also the best and most important thing I’ve ever done, and I wouldn’t undo it for anything.  But man, we’re talking literal blood, sweat, and tears on a regular basis.

3. It is really, really hard to feel judged.  Whether the judgment is real or not, I’m not sure.  It hardly seems to matter.  Perceived judgment has just as much impact, it seems, or maybe even more, than explicitly stated judgment.  I often feel judged for my parenting.  This seems inevitable, no matter what I might choose to do.  Knowing the inevitability, knowing that the judgment can stem from the insecurity of others– none of that knowledge seems to matter.  It still hurts and it still sucks and I still haven’t gotten rid of it.  I also feel judged by some people for thinking I’m “more sustainable” than they are.  Even though this is hogwash (please, explain to me how anyone in isolation can “win” at sustainability?!) it hurts me to the core because I don’t think I’m better than anyone else.

4. I tend to discount all the good things that I do and only focus on the areas that need improvement.  When I was a student, this was reflected in my feelings about grades.  Anything short of straight A’s wasn’t good enough.  And even when I did get straight A’s, in college and grad school, it didn’t become a great achievement in my own eyes; it was just the bare minimum to be acceptable.  Can anyone really understand this?  It sounds nuts.  On a measurable scale of achievement, a perfect score was not good enough. And even seeing how crazy that looks, it doesn’t make me suddenly snap out of it and become self-accepting.

5. Tom is going away for a few days for a work-related training in Florida.  I’m going to miss him, and I’m not feeling good about having sole responsibility for Lily the whole time.  I am in awe of single parents who do this all the time.  But bear in mind I don’t have daycare or babysitters, I don’t have any family members in the area to lean on, and I don’t have a lot of close friends nearby.  And of the friends that I do have, most are extremely busy.  This brings up a lot of feelings of abandonment.  Literally all of my close family members, except for Tom and Lily, are in Europe.  I miss them most of all.  But I also miss my cherished vision of a close-knit community where it would always be easy to hang out with someone.  I’m realizing that that vision is completely ridiculous to ever expect.  It crushes me.

Okay.  I’m done with the numbered list.  There’s probably more but this is feeling like a lot already.

Is this getting me any closer to answering the question, what does it mean to be good enough? Haven’t I tried to answer this question my entire life?



  1. Jen. You are such a brilliant writer. I am always touched by your words. So many people ask the same questions. Really you should think about making s book with all your blog entries.

  2. Dear Jen,

    This is a great post — because you do address something so many women I know (and some men) deal with on a regular basis. I found a lot to identify with here.

    My favorite line: “making a numbered list may give me the illusion of mastery.” I LOVE numbered lists. I LOVE the illusion of mastery! 🙂 Seriously, me too.

    I completely relate to your feelings about parenting and worries about not having back-up. I wish we lived closer to each other, so we could do that for each other (as well as the hanging out often part).

    I wonder if people are too busy to hang out in part because of regional culture? I find that it’s not hard to do that sort of thing in TX, especially with people who don’t have kids. I also recall that when I lived with roommates in Davis Square and had unmarried friends in the neighborhood, it seemed to mean more drop-in visits, so maybe there is also a stage-of-life factor at play.

    You wrote, “And even when I did get straight A’s, in college and grad school, it didn’t become a great achievement in my own eyes; it was just the bare minimum to be acceptable. Can anyone really understand this? It sounds nuts. On a measurable scale of achievement, a perfect score was not good enough.” I felt SUCH identification with you! My sister C. and I have talked about this, many, many times. We have both felt this way and thought it perhaps had to do with the standards we were inculcated with growing up, by my mother. She drives herself relentlessly, and we learned to do the same. And it was never with the end goal of feeling AMAZING or PROUD…. no, it was just so you could feel acceptable. Barely so. So, Jen, yes, I can really understand this and I love the italicized sentence you wrote — you put it so clearly, so simply, and in a high-impact way.

  3. Wow. Thank you for writing what has been in MY head and heart for the last few weeks. Trying to be my Self, my best Self, has not been as easy as I thought. Even being my most authentic Self? Not always. Too much introspection, too many fires have been damped down to survive parenting, work, financial struggles, relationships…

    However, it is seeing the reflection in another that can make me say you ARE good enough. And you don’t need me or anyone else to validate you in that. Although plenty of us will. 🙂 *shakes pompoms*

  4. In regard to#5, I really felt that way last year, but our move to a new town and community has really changed the community aspect. Keep dreaming and planning and you will find your community (or it will find you).

    In regards to the rest, a very wise boss taught me a few years back that there are 4 wasted emotions: regret, guilt, frustration and jealousy. None of these directly tie into what you have written, but for me they indirectly tie into many of these experiences on my side of the pond. John’s solution for each feeling, is to notice/acknowledge when you feel it; figure out why you felt that way; think about what you can do in the future to avoid it; and then get on with your day/week/whatever. Not always easy to do, but makes it much easier to be “good enough,” although I think that good be be said in a better light! The FlyLady says something about being our best everyday, but acknowledge that our best one day, may not be our best on another.

  5. I’m reading my new minister’s old sermons–here’s a Franciscan blessing for you, or a thought to help you notice how you already are blessed (however uncomfortably at times)::

    May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, that we may live deep within our hearts.

    May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace.

    May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

    May God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.

  6. Moe, you are very sweet. Thanks for liking my writing.

    Nancy, if there is anyone I can count on to “get” 99.9% of what I say or write, it’s you. I miss you so much.

    Kristi, I will shake pompoms for you too! You are good enough, absolutely!

    Alison, thank you for the suggestions and encouragement. I understand where your boss was coming from, but part of my problem is I’ve tried to do just that, and it doesn’t work for me. The “get on with your day” part– I’m a functional person, and I do get through the day, but I can never quite shake the oppressive feelings. I think part of my task is to continually accept that I’m set up a certain way.

    CT, those blessings are priceless. Seriously, I think I want to revive my calligraphy skills and turn this into a document to frame and put on the wall. These words speak to me loud and clear.

  7. […] can expect to answer them for myself in any concise, tidy way.  “Worthy” seems related to being “good enough” and yet seems to push many levels beyond mere adequacy.  If it’s so bloody hard to feel […]

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