Before we get started on what will inevitably be a tough journey through feelings of inadequacy and sadness, am I the only one that can’t even think of the word “enough” without thinking about The Greatest Showman? As somebody that is a sucker for a power ballad, that whole film absolutely bangs.
The word enough is an interesting one because its value entirely depends on the context in which it’s presented and the situation it’s relating to.
Is £20 enough? For me to go to the pub and get a meal? Yes. For a parent to get the weekly shop in for a family of four? No.
Is a week enough? To tidy my flat? Yes. To cure my depression? No.
Am I good enough? My girlfriend says yes. I say no.
Why don’t I feel like enough?
Where I grew up, I was surrounded by excellence at almost every corner. I went to school with nationally ranked athletes, musical wunderkinds and kids primed to be future CEOs or even the Prime Minister. And there I was, average Dave.
I played for the B team in most sports, I was in the second set for the majority of subjects and played an instrument to an average ability compared to my peers. Because I didn’t excel in any particular area, I was never given many compliments. I'd see other children getting praise and wonder why I wasn't good enough. To this day, I still don’t know how to take compliments and my immediate reaction is to belittle the thing that I’m getting the compliment for.
I would put in my best effort, only to immediately be compared to those around me who achieved more than I did and inevitably feel bad about myself for not doing better than my best.
I don’t fully know why people feel the need to belittle your achievements by comparing them to others, but it feels all too common a practice to do with children. It feels as if your peers did it to feel better about themselves and teachers/parents did it as a way to shame you for not doing better and as a piss poor motivation technique.
At those ages we are sponges for all sorts of behaviour. It will have happened to all kids and they then did it to each other. I’m sure many parents were treated the same way when they were younger, remember it happening and then do the same to their children and thus the cycle continues. As sponges, we absorb just about everything good and bad and when all is said and done, we still retain a decent amount of negative behaviour.
The bad behaviour I retained allowed me to become a critic and when you’re alone, the only thing to critique is yourself. From that point on, I became judge, jury and executioner to my own self-worth.
We are all our worst critics
Our self-worth comes from three areas: self-understanding, self-love and self-acceptance. When all three are working together in harmony it creates an unwavering self-worth which is capable of unleashing a power inside, propelling us to new heights. But as Uncle Ben says “with great power comes great responsibility” and the power I gained from my low self-worth was capable of bringing me to new lows I never thought possible. I wasn't ready to deal with the responsibility of managing my self-worth.
By constantly comparing myself to others, I was totally unable to view my own actions and achievements objectively. If you asked me what my limits were and what I was actually capable of achieving, I wouldn’t have the faintest idea. I still don’t know the answer to that question. I've lived in my own skin for almost 30 years and I still don’t understand myself.
How can you love what you don’t understand? All I understand about myself is that if I’m not perfect, I’m worthless. All that’s left after a few decades of honing my critiquing skills is a truly glorious ability to diminish anything I do. The results don’t matter, all that matters is how I feel about the results and I am yet to love the results. I don’t love myself.
If I were to love myself even a little, I would be able to accept that it’s okay to be slightly less than perfect. Hell, that it’s okay to be a million miles away from perfect. Progress is progress as long as you can learn from it and move forward. But at this moment in my life, that sentiment feels a million while away. I don’t accept myself.
Maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Cogito, ergo sum - I think, therefore I am. I’ll never be enough, until I think I’m enough. I should probably leave that debate to the philosophers. By hey, at least I’m self-aware!
A world beyond self-hatred
At the start of this blog, I referenced the song “Never Enough” by Loren Allred (made famous by The Greatest Showman). The song tells a beautiful story of how without her partner by her side, “towers of gold are still too little, these hands could hold the world but it’ll never be enough”. It’s the perfect metaphor for how my life has been without self-acceptance and self-love.
I’m fortunate to be in a position where I don’t have to stress from paycheque to paycheque and can still live in arguably one of the best cities in the world. I’ve travelled the world from the humid rainforests of Panama to the tranquil tundra of northern Sweden to the crystal clear seas of the Philippines. But it was never enough to make me happy. Some of the months following those events were the lowest points of my life.
These days, I spend my time travelling between the same few buildings and due to COVID circumstances, can’t spend my money even if I wanted to. So why am I happier now?
That question actually brought a small smile to my face and I think it’s a testament to how far I’ve come in the last year. Instead of questioning myself and coming up with a multitude of reasons as to why I should be unhappy and hate myself, the question I’ve asked myself is designed to self reflect upon the good in my life. It’s an opportunity to take a moment and appreciate all the things that bring my life joy and meaning.
I guess that sentiment answers the question. Turns out that when you treat yourself like the enemy, you stop looking at yourself like an enemy and allow happiness to seep into your life.
I was recently asked if I loved myself. My answer was no, but I’m getting there.
The fact that I no longer fill my mind with toxic thoughts of self-hatred is a huge step in the right direction. I’m more accepting of my faults and my failures. That’s not to say I’m not trying to improve but I’m giving myself a compassion that still feels alien at times. It’s this compassion that is making me feel like I am enough.
I feel like I am enough and regardless of what lies I tell myself along the way, I am enough.
Until we speak again, keep hanging in there.