“Only something as insane as human beings would ever asked themselves if ‘I’m good.’ You don’t find oak trees having existential crisis. ‘I feel so rotten about myself. I don’t produce as much acorns as the one next to me.’” ~Adyashant
The feeling of not being good enough is a problem that affects everyone from time-to-time, regardless of age or social status. I’ve struggled with feeling like I’m not good enough for most of my life, especially in high school and my early college years. As a blogger, I’ll see the the success of others around me and immediately feel bad about my blogging journey. As an entrepreneur, I’ll see someone hit it big by what seems to be overnight success, not taking into account the road they had to travel to get to where they may be. I’ve met many of my peers who are successful and that’s when those feelings of inadequacy begin to creep in.
Sometimes I feel inadequate about my abilities, where I am in life, and the state of my career when I look at everyone else. You should never ever do that because your journey has absolutely nothing to do with someone else’s, but that’s easier said than done. When I’m trapped in the little bubble that is my mind I feel like I’m the only one dealing with this, but when I look around I see that’s definitely not the case. Most people spend their entire lives trying to be good enough, to be liked and appreciated, many times without actually succeeding at filling that void within themselves. It’s insane to see how everyone tries so hard to be “somebody”.
Society has conditioned us to tie up our self-worth to how much we “contribute”, and these supposed “contributions” often refer to the amount of money we earn or the social status we have. It creates an artificial duality between “successful” people and others, which leaves most of us feeling like outsiders. We then load up on self-help books, articles, and even conferences that tell us we have to do everything in our power to “get better”. We have to read more, learn more, strive more, push harder in order to get to where we want to be. But I’ll let you in on a little tidbit I’m just now realizing:
Trying to be “good enough” by “getting better” just doesn’t work.
When we feel we’re not good enough—not successful enough, not smart enough, not attractive enough, not rich enough, not accomplished enough, just not enough—our efforts to break free from that state of mind by “getting better” are doomed to fail. Why? For three reasons: the Hedonic Treadmill, Goal Pursuit, and Social Comparison.
The Hedonic Treadmill
This is the psychological process in which we readily adapt to improved conditions—and promptly take those improvements for granted. Let’s say you’re stuck at a job that you absolutely hate, and your dream is to change careers and open a bakery. You finally quit your job, lease a space, and create the uber chic bakery of your dreams. At first, you feel overwhelmingly happy and truly blessed that you were able to accomplish something so amazing, not to mention you left that boring, dead-end, crappy job behind for good. As time goes on, however, you find going to work less exciting and pleasurable. And eventually, you return to the same level of happiness you were at when you were at your last job.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The Myths of Happiness, says, ” The more we attain, the happier we become. But, at the same time, the more we attain, the more we want, which negates the increased happiness.” The upside of this process is that we adapt surprisingly well to worsened conditions. But the problem is that the improvements of our circumstances, whatever they may be, shift our reference points (the standards which we asses ourselves, our performance, and our experience of life). This doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy these improvements, that enjoyment just doesn’t last as long as we think it will and they aren’t as fulfilling either.
Goals can be great motivators, but they can have some unexpected consequences with the power attached to them. That power can have the ability to render the journey towards reaching them less fulfilling, which can be a huge demotivator. Chrisitan Jarrette, editor of The Psychologist magazine, warns, “Stay focused on your goals and you spoil your experience of the activities you’ll need to pursue. In turn, that makes it far more likely that you’ll drop out early and fail to achieve the very goals that you’re so focused on.” Lyubomirsky also notes, “The empirical evidence reveals that the critical factor in whether goal pursuit makes us happy lies in enjoying the journey and not in realizing the end-goal.” The problem here is that we generally view “getting better” as “not there yet”, which causes us to fixate on the goal and how far away we are from it, instead of the process and the most recent steps we’ve taken.
We Earthlings are deeply social creatures, we’ve evolved a reflexive predisposition to think about other people. This impulse is so deeply rooted that neuroscientists believe that thinking about others is our brain’s default activity. As we look around us to understand what others are doing—and how they’re doing—we inevitably use this information to assess ourselves. The issue here is that comparing ourselves to other people is the primary culprit of those feelings of inadequacy and discontent. So if you’re comparing yourself to a high-achieving person, “getting better” is a surefire way to never be “good enough” because there will always be someone who’s accomplished more than you have. So stop setting yourself up for the same L over and over.
So what can you do? Manage your aspirations. I know that sounds like a total load of crap after reading all of that, but there are specific things you can do to achieve this. For starters:
- Reflect on the shortness of life and how blessed we are to be alive in the first place. Are you healthy? Gainfully employed? Do you have a roof over your head? If so, you’re doing a hell of a lot better than most people are. Be grateful for that.
- Consider how much worse things could be and how good you have it.
- Focus on the present moment and resist regret (which pulls you into the past) and anxiety (which pulls you into the future).
Set Goals Wisely
- Focus on micro-goals and celebrate small victories along the way.
- Adopt a growth mindset and learn from your failures, which are inevitable (sorry, boo).
- Recognize your incompetence as a temporary thing and prioritize learning and growth, which go hand-in-hand.
Live Your Values
- How you manage your time shows what’s truly important to you, so use it wisely. We each have the same amount of hours in a day, days in a week, and so on; how effectively are you using the time that’s been given to you?
- Ask yourself, “What has my attention right now?”. Your attention needs to be focused on one thing at a time. We can pay continuous partial attention to multiple things, but we can only truly focus only on one subject at a time.
- Let your values (what you judge as important in life) inform your vision of yourself, not your accomplishments or set-backs.
There are loads of people who are regarded as “successful” from society’s standards, but aren’t from an objective point of view. Take Cult45 (Donald Trump), he’s filed bankruptcy six times, has had two people close to his campaign for presidency indicted on twelve counts including fraud, has went on record admitting he grabs women’s genitals without their consent, has absolutely no f*cking idea what he’s doing, and somehow people still see him as a successful business man. So if that can happen for him the sky is the limit, trust me.
And being a complete “failure” under society’s standards can never make you a failure as a human being. Nothing can turn you into a not-good-enough person without your consent. Sure, you’ve failed at some things and some of your friends may be more “successful”, but does that really mean you’re not good enough? That you’re not worthy? If you buy into society’s expectations, then yes. But if you don’t (which you shouldn’t), it’s a clear “HELL NO!”. Trees don’t have self-esteem issues, and wine (one of life’s greatest treasures) doesn’t ask itself, “Am I good enough?”. So why should you. That question is irrelevant! Strike it from your thought space. You are who you are, and that’s damn good enough.