4 Ways to Break the Thought That You Are Not Good Enough — During the Holidays and Beyond
Why do so many women work so hard to outshine, outdo, out create?
I was finishing the lineup for our first CoveyClub Live! networking event in New York City the other day when a terrific speaker called to ask if I could fit her in. Since I wanted the day to be very fast-paced, I had limited presentations to 30 or 45 minutes, with 15-minute interactive moments-of-connection in between.
When my friend looked at the schedule of 10 speakers she said, “Wow, that’s a lot in one day!”
“Do you think?” I asked, suddenly unsure. In my effort to make sure that every attendee got their time and money’s worth, I had crammed about three days’ worth of information into a single 9-to-5. “I guess I’ve always been a crammer,” I said sheepishly.
“Women do that,” my friend said wisely, “because we are afraid that whatever we do is never enough.”
“OMG, that’s me!” I blurted, recalling how with every job I’d had, I’d been compelled to over-perform. If a previous editor did three events per year at a magazine, I had to do five. If a previous article on hair showed 30 tips, I had to show 50. If the Today Show needed three talking points for a segment, I brought 10.
Why Do I Feel Like I Am Not Good Enough?
Whatever I did, I had to outshine, outdo, out create. More was never more. More was never enough. Out-accomplishing your competitor was, in my opinion, one of my boss, Anna Wintour’s, secret weapons when she took over Vogue and I was just a copywriter. I watched her cram more work into her 9-to-5 than previous editors had put in 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. The pace in those early years was so fast that many times we simply stood behind our chairs for meetings instead of taking the minute to sit down.
I took that same insecurity about over-performing into my family life. To this day, I still puff out my chest when I say that my son had a bath. Every! Single! Night! — until he was 5! And when it came to the holidays, I wasn’t just the hostess with the mostess — I was Martha Stewart on steroids. No matter that I worked killer hours, I whipped up a feast for 13 by myself, starting a week ahead of time and freezing my way to excess. No one believed my signature cakes were homemade because the icing looked so professional.
Ironically, and not to get too woo-woo here, the last magazine I edited was called — wait for it — More. And doubly ironic, whenever I describe the CoveyClub audience to speakers who present to our members for workshops or classes about accomplishing change over the age of 40, I always say they are “the overachievers,” “the girls who sit at the front of the class, who show up with their pencils sharpened and ready to learn.”
Ummm, a lot like, well, me.
Or maybe you?
Like us they are probably (secretly) afraid that whatever they do, it will never be enough.
Why Is Enough Not Good Enough?
Could it be insecurity that leads us all to the need to over-perform?
I have heard innumerable women speak over the years about feeling that they were never enough: Never enough for their mothers or fathers to give them attention; never enough to speak up among siblings; never enough to garner family or business support. They are not pretty enough, slim enough, engaging enough, loving enough, smart enough, active enough… the list goes on.
As we age, I hear women speak about elderly parents who they care for laying a totally new enough on them: Saying they are “not doing enough,” “spending enough time,” or “caring enough.” This can be especially true during the holidays when many of us are expected to “perform” culinary and hospitality miracles for our extended families while also making sure everyone is happy and getting along.
Interestingly, I’ve also heard a certain group of wild, outspoken women say they were always told the exact opposite… that they were “too much” — to “tone it down,” “shut up,” or “you’re a handful.”
Remember that “too much” is the flip side of “not enough,” and it can be even more damaging.
Women, it seems, are always on the wrong side of the word “enough.” Which is why in the stereotype-flipping movie, Barbie, we scream with laughter when Barbie’s attention-starved, afterthought of a boyfriend, Ken, appears in a sweatshirt that shouts “I Am Kenough.” We recognize — with painful irony — the plight of someone (in this case a guy) who feels they can never measure up.
4 Ways To Feel Like We Are Good Enough
Since I’ve had “enough” of this, here are solutions for us all to start feeling like we’re enough — beginning with these holidays.
1. Say enough with not enough. Let’s ditch the desire to be more than the guy at the next desk or to be the perfect daughter-in-law who creates the perfect holiday decor and meal. Let’s try not to over-perform and just once sneak by with letting some things just happen as they unfold. Allow a moment of uncontrolled downtime in a meeting. Allow someone to bring a dish. Do what’s necessary, but not to mind-blowing excess. Does anyone like you less? Do you fail or die? What really happens?
2. Remind yourself that you are enough. Before a big presentation, a major talk, or your family rings the doorbell, tell yourself out loud (yes, talking to yourself is very effective), “I am enough!” Think of Ken and say it several times until you feel enough in your bones. Be confident that you know enough, have learned enough, and can share enough about whatever it is you’re poised to do.
3. Let your children and your younger co-workers know they are enough. When you see younger people doing a great job, say so. When you see them cramming or over-performing, let them know that “that’s enough.” Say it out loud so they can really hear you. Remind them that they don’t have to over-perform to achieve your recognition or (in your family) your love.
4. Banish “too much.” Remember that “too much” is the flip side of “not enough” and how painful it can be for those who are told it. If there is a behavior that needs reining in, speak to that person about the specific behavior. Do not take it global to encompass their whole self.
Once I realized that the anxiety over my lineup for my event was of my own making, it was easier to move things around and find a spot for my very wise friend. Yes, the day is chock-a-block with information, and yes, that means we will probably fall behind schedule.
But I’ve decided to just let the day unfold. I’ve done my part. Now my guests will do theirs: they will take in what they want and slip outside to chat when it’s too much to absorb. And here’s what’s particularly great: I don’t need to fear the day not being a success because I’ve already learned enough… I’ve had a profound insight about myself while planning it.