The Fear of Not Being Enough
I was listening to a Podcast when the interviewer asked, “What are you afraid of?” Hearing the question stunned me a bit. I began to contemplate my answer as if the interviewer was asking me the question. There was a series of images throughout my life that came flooding forward; within seconds I had my answer.
I am afraid of not being enough. Not being good enough. Smart enough. Fit enough. Masculine enough. Out-going enough. Healthy enough.
I was lying in bed, but had a unsettled feeling in my stomach. Familiar to when I first sat down with my counselor back in 2012.
There are moments in our lives that can plague us. The duration or consistency is highly individual. Whether we carry these incidents for short moments, months or years are often an unconscious decision – at least it was for myself. So how far back did these feelings go?
My feeling of not being smart enough first came when I was in grade 2.
I was held back a year. I was a young boy, with a lot of energy, an often-short attention span and some trouble with reading and math. Watching all my friends move forward into the next grade was a difficult one. The time I can first remember the feeling of, not being smart enough.
The image of myself in and out of the hospital flooded my brain. This stemmed from a ruptured appendix in the third grade to a developed blood disorder that wouldnt stabilize till the tenth grade.
I could carry this trend back years before grade school to a hernia as well, if I really reach. This was some of the most trying times for my family and myself. I remember lying there in the hospital bed and weighing heavily on my mind. “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be healthy like the other kids?” The time I can first remember the feeling of, not being healthy enough.
I can remember my desperation after school in grade 6 standing at the bus stop asking my friends to befriend me again. Apologizing for “being annoying and girly” stating, “I can change.” I was an easy target for the jocks in the grades ahead of me too throughout junior high and early high school. These are the times I can remember the feeling of, not being masculine enough.
Gym class is always a place I never felt comfortable. If not chosen by default, I was often picked last in gym class. Even in college when picked off into teams, I would cringe to flashbacks of adolescence gym class. These are the times I never felt fit enough, athletic enough, strong enough or popular enough.
“Honestly, I don’t think you could be a personal trainer.” I remember hearing this in drama class, when discussing what paths we were contemplating after high school. I glared and asked why. “Because, people aren’t going to want to be trained by you. You’re not fit enough to be a personal trainer.” That guy’s statement stuck with me. Especially upon graduating and when my manager put an ad out for new clients and someone I've never met emailed me, “Maybe you would have more clients, if you lost weight.” I was dumbfounded. Was this guy in grade 11 Drama class actually, right? Of course not. But I went there for a moment.
So, you too have a fear of not being enough – smart enough, fit enough, pretty enough, healthy enough, funny enough. What can you do with this?
1. Stop the comparison.
The thing is when you have a feeling of being inferior; it’s often when you’re putting yourself or being put beside some one else in comparison. As a society, we have identified points of success: a career providing a lot of financial wealth, a fancy house, a happy marriage, a fit appearance, nice clothes and beautiful children. Often, we compare ourselves to those we feel have reached these points -- even though the reality may be different than what we perceive. But you’re entering into a fight you’ll never win. Your perceived flaws are always pitted against your perceived strength of another.
We need to define what success and accomplishment means to us. Our personal definition of success may contain elements to the person’s sitting beside us, but it isn't the exact definition.
Karolina Tatarenkova, writer for the Huffington Post states, “If you rely on somebody's validation of your success, you will never be free. It will be easy for anyone to derail you off your path.”
Determine your definition and follow your own path.
2. Deal with the hurt.
Author and Doctor, Brené Brown has said, “Over time when I feel hurt, angry or ashamed – I am going to do something with that. There are these very patterned ways people offload hurt and emotion instead of feel it. Then a seemingly innocent comment happens, and they go into a rage. That’s ‘eggshell environment.’ That’s trauma inducing. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Your body keeps score and will always win.”
This is why you can put yourself right back in the gym class, that hospital room, entering that grade 2 class room another year or opening up that email filled with judgement. Your body will harness and hold onto these incidents in a way of dealing with hurt and in some cases, alter you.
When I was going through those moments that created the feeling of not being enough, I didn’t actually deal with (most) of them, creating turmoil inside me, which sometimes came to life through mean comments and actions towards others – even my loved ones – my people. I’m not proud of these moments, but because of this I know it’s likely I was apart of another’s feeling of not being _________ enough because I never dealt with my own shit.
3. Benefit of the doubt - We’re all doing our best, given the tools we have.
What’s the saying, “the people who hurt, are often the ones doing the hurting”. Looking back, any comment that was directed towards me, came from a place of hurt the person hadn’t dealt with. I know this because I’ve recognized it within myself and sometimes I see this in others.
I remember wanting to tell grade 6 Shane to show those "friends" the nearest exit. To stop agreeing to change yourself for acceptance. But in that moment, I was doing the best thing I could to survive - to not get hurt.
Jill Coleman says when we give someone the benefit of the doubt it’s asking yourself, ‘Have I never offended someone?’ or ‘I have ever been mean to someone?’ and then taking it one step further and asking, ‘And when I did those things, was I even aware of the other person's feelings?’
Many times, we aren't even aware of the words we’re saying and the effect they have. So there may be a chance that person who upset you wasn’t even aware they were doing it.
4. Harness the feelings into strength.
I saw a picture that read, “The pain in your today, is giving you the strength you need for tomorrow.” A sometimes irritating thing to read when you’re living the pain, but how often do we look back on that difficult situation with appreciation.
“If it wasn’t for all the hard times and challenges in my life, I would not have the drive and determination that lead me to sit here today.” – Christina Aguilera
Back in 2015 I became aware that I was being involved in a string of malicious messages from former colleagues. The messages were geared towards hurting another person, by using my own sexuality – a gay man. Though I wasn’t the direct target of these messages, having my sexuality being used as a weapon was infuriating, but also difficult to describe.
I credit my past experiences for allowing me to confidently walk into that boardroom with a backbone to challenge those individuals face to face on their ignorant actions. Actions that speak nothing about who I am or the person they were targeting, but volumes about the perpetrators. Which leads me to my last point.
5. Don’t take it personally.
The words or feelings are not spoken from your truth, but from their insecurity. Mike Robbins introduced me to the quote, “You wouldn’t worry about what other people think about you so much if you realized how little they actually did.”
Boom! How true is this? Yes, the fact is that most people are focusing much more on themselves than on us. Very often we take things personally. Things that actually had nothing to do with us. This doesn’t mean we let people walk all over us or treat us in hurtful ways. We need to up for ourselves when we’re being disrespected. What Mike Robbins means is, when we stop taking things so personally we actually liberate ourselves from needless worry, defensiveness and conflict.
So what is going to make you, enough?
I urge you to stop looking outside for your validation. Validate yourself. Deal with your shit. Don’t suppress it to the point where it becomes toxic to your relationships. Then take all the bullshit and create magic from it. It will take time and it will be messy.
I’ll leave you here with this:
It’s currently estimated that there are over seven billion people in the world today. You’re one in seven billion. Some of those billions will share the same characteristics as you, experiences as you and values as you. But not one person can stand beside you and say they are you. You’re a rarity, and that’s pretty fucking spectacular.