Enoughness: How will you know when you are enough?

October 22, 2018

Sarah Epstein, MFT is a staff therapist at Council for Relationships Center City. This blog was originally posted on her website and is republished here with her permission.

Pick a metric. Academic success, thinness, dating prowess, job prestige, marriageability, fertility, athleticism… the list goes on and on. As we move through life, the goalposts indicating change and seem to recede, despite our best efforts. Like a person running through a desert toward water, only to arrive and realize it was never there, we chase culturally constructed notions of success and happiness, only to arrive and look around helplessly when those accomplishments fail to garner feelings of adequacy. No matter what we do we never feel smart enough, thin enough, successful enough, prestigious enough, or patient enough. We are never enough.

Many of my clients experience some version of this sense of inadequacy. They look toward the next goalpost, sure that this goal will help them feel sufficient. The standards they set for themselves are typically lofty, vague, and ever-changing. Interestingly, when those goals are achieved, many find ways to prove that those metrics don’t really count and suddenly other metrics take on greater importance.

Interestingly, these metrics are always external. The focus remains ever outward. Success, we learn, comes from validation from others, the belief by others that we are enough. Each of us is an active participant in our own adequacy only to the extent that we work our tails off to live up to the (real or imagined) standards of others. But we never allow ourselves to sit in the judging booth of our own enoughness.

So let me ask you this. How will you know when you are successful enough? How will you know that you are thin enough? How will you know when your family looks wealthy enough? How will you know when your job is high-powered enough? How will you know when you are attractive enough? How will you know when you’re a good enough parent? How will you know when you are enough?

The mirage of objective enoughness leaves us running toward it, parched and insecure, only to disappear. We never get closer. Not because we are never good enough but because those measures themselves can never lead us to feel good enough. It has become a cliché to say that you can have all the material possessions in the world and still feel unhappy. Underlying that truism is the truth that nobody else will ever make us feel like we are enough if we don’t already believe it.

How will you know when you are enough? When you decide that you are. Right here, right now.

You are a one-person judgement panel of enoughness and the scorecards are based solely on what you tell yourself. That’s it.

The sooner we embrace the power to determine our own enoughness, the easier it becomes to live a life dictated by passion, love, and interest rather than fear, self-loathing, and distorted self-image. The sooner we realize that we get to decide that we are enough, the sooner we can stop moving the goalposts and start reveling in the experience that we have already made it.

Sarah Epstein, MFT is a staff therapist at Council for Relationships Center City. If you are interested in therapy, you can request an appointment by filling out the form at this link.