“I'm not good enough. I fall short all the time. I missed a deadline. I ran late … again. I slopped something on my new shirt. I ate too much. I can't find my keys … again. I fail at everything.” Rose twists her hands in her lap and looks at the group, searching faces for something. For sympathy, for validation — for anything.
“I feel that way all the time," Juanita says with a nod. There are nods of agreement, and murmurs of ascent flow through the small group.
“Do you feel that way often? That no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, you’re just nothing but a fuck up? Because I sure do." Hayley says.
James nods. “Every day it seems like there's some bullshit I failed at."
“And it's not even anyone telling me I screwed up — I just know I'm not good enough."
They all turn to the group facilitator.
“Sounds like you’re all struggling," the therapist says. “So, tell me, what does ‘good enough' sound or look like to you?
“I don't know — it's like doing it right the first time and not having to wish for a do-over," Rose says. “I'd like for something to come out perfect just once in my life."
As a former supervised therapist, this is a common theme I'd heard more times than I could count, and this fictional support group is more common than people think. Almost everyone has at least one time in their lives where they don't feel they measure up. They see others besting them at something they’re good at, or they struggle to achieve some notion of perfection.
Not feeling “good enough" is a huge troll from your brain.
Remember that — when you feel like you’re falling short, chances are, your brain is trolling your ass.
People often look for insight to why they’ve come to think they’re not good enough or why they feel worthless sometimes. It could be a variety of reasons. Maybe you were brought up in a house where a B+ or A wasn't good enough, it had to be an A+ or a 3 hour lecture on how you failed. If you didn't get a 4.0, don't bother with a future. It could be that you were abused in some way — verbally, sexually, physically, psychologically, or emotionally. Perhaps your parents, teachers, or caregivers compared you to other kids and told you that you didn't measure up. Maybe a helicopter parent micromanaged you to the point where you learned to be helpless.
It could be any of those things, or something else. Sometimes the past is so ingrained into our personalities it's difficult to untangle the why of how we are today.
Insight is great to have, but without action, it's pretty much a non-starter.
So even if you don't understand why you’re not feeling adequate, you can still do something about it.
And the way to help yourself is to let go of the notion of perfection.
How do you do that?
First: Realize that perfection is an illusion. It's fake af. It doesn't exist. Let it the hell go. Give it the middle finger on its way out the door.
Seriously. Ever see a beautiful work of art? You have a friend or know someone who's an artist? Go look at your favorite piece of theirs. Examine how perfect it is to you. Then tell your artist friend it's perfect. Watch them pick it apart and tell you all the ways they failed to achieve what they set out to do. Or, if they’re more forgiving of themselves, they’ll just tell you that everything could be improved upon. Better still, they just sigh inwardly and take the compliment.
Perfection is only available through our brain's crappy perception filter. The brain has been trained to seek out this illusory idea that something can be 100% perfect. The reality is that all this nebulous perfection idea does is causes us to get anxious, frustrated, and angry with ourselves, leading to feelings of inadequacy and not being good enough.
To combat this, the next time you have to do something and the urge to do it “perfectly” arises, don't.
Now, this doesn't mean endangering your job or livelihood, but it does mean radical acceptance of the mediocre. Mediocre to you, dear perfectionist, is most likely someone else's top-notch effort. Dare to be adequate, not perfect.
The safer way to practice this is with a hobby you enjoy, or have come to not enjoy because you didn't do it perfectly. Go ahead and aim for disaster. Paint a crooked nose on your bathing beauty. Make one ass cheek way bigger than the other. Purposefully misspell things when you write. For exmple, this typo I just made. I meant to spell ‘example,’ and look what happened. Well, I’m leaving it. You know why?
Because you get what I meant, and it doesn't have to be perfect. It's good enough. And I will challenge any prescriptivist who tries to claim intellectual superiority over a typo. (They’re small-minded, classists, and sometimes bigots. I know because I used to be a prescriptivist.)
Once you stop equating perfection with being good enough, you will realize that you are good enough. You are adequate.
You don't have to chase perfection. You just have to do your best and let it be good enough. I’ve seen this in practice many times. I even do it myself. I puposefully chased doing a mediocre job at a writing project I was working on, only to receive a huge amount of praise and a five-star rating from the client. Because I was relaxed, and not focused on making it perfect (I could always revise later), it came out well and had a good voice to it. It turned out to be exactly what the client was looking for.
Sometimes you just have to say fuck it and let go.
Second: Your only real competition is your past self.
Someone out there is better at what you do, and someone else is worse. Once you realize this, competition with others becomes nonsense. I think that's the main reason I stopped watching the Olympics. There will always be someone better who comes along and tops what everyone else is doing, forever and ever until we all cease to exist.
Ultimately the only way you can measure improvement is by comparing it to how you used to do something. You can do this by going back to old journal entries, or looking at old paintings/drawings, listening to old recordings of music, or seeing how much you’ve progressed in a job since your first day/training.
You are a work in progress. Ugh, what a saying. It seems like a cliché at this point — but I’ll use it anyway. Perfection is an unrealistic goal, and the sooner you learn that, the better off you’ll be.
A realistic goal in being good enough: ask yourself if you achieved what you set out to achieve. If the answer is yes, then take it, you’re good enough. If your answer is no, that’s a chance to evaluate. Were your standards too high and perfectionist?
Also, remember that failing at something doesn’t mean you are a failure. As my high school algebra teacher once said, “you aren’t a failure — you have not yet mastered this concept.” That’s the truth of it — you will master this concept, but you haven’t yet. Keep trying, and you will.
Practice might not make perfect, but it will make it good enough.
Third: Name some high-quality things about yourself. Start by naming just one thing.
Even if you can't think of anything right away, give it time. One thing might be that you’re good at deflecting tasks. Or that you’re thoughtful and take your time with things. Maybe you’re really good at not being ticklish.
Does the thing you’re good at or value in yourself have monetary value or is useful to another person? No? Good. Because something doesn’t have to be monetized to have value. It just needs to make you feel good.
So whether it’s being a great dancer or being able to understand exactly what your cat is saying, value it. You bring value to the world in ways you might not be seeing.
If you’re struggling with this one, ask someone you know for help. It can be a friend, non-toxic relative, or someone who seems to enjoy your company. But believe them when they tell you something positive. Otherwise, it won’t really matter.
Validation from outside is nice to have, but it’s not a necessity. You need to develop internal validation, otherwise you may fall into a trap of seeking approval, and that, my friends, is a dangerous snare.
So have the friend or significant other in your life get you started, and dare yourself to agree with them. Use it as a springboard to spark your internal validation.
Fourth: Be good enough out of spite.
Okay, okay, enough with the warm fuzzy shit — some of us have people who hate us out there and want to see us break. They enjoy every little breakdown, every little failure, because in their sad lives and minds, they have nothing else they like about themselves so they have to see others feel bad.
We’re often told we should pity them and love them anyway, fine. That’s all well and good, but they’re still going to love it when we screw up and have a freak out about it.
So the best way to combat this is to take a lesson from narcissists and some psychopaths — consider any failure a stepping stone to success. Believe that you may not have done something exactly the way you planned it, but you learned a great deal from the experience.
The people out there who don’t like you are going to absolutely despise that you’re having a good time even when you didn’t do something perfectly. You’re good enough, and they will resent it even more that you’re satisfied with your accomplishment.
If you can’t do it for love, do it for spite. Pretty soon you’ll realize that those hateful people didn’t matter all along, because you’re having a good time anyway.
Fifth: There's way more good about you than bad.
When you’re listing out the good things in step number three, you’re bound to have some shitty thoughts come up trying to troll you into thinking those good things aren’t good enough. Fine. Set the bad thoughts to the side and measure them against the good.
Look at them objectively. Usually those negative thoughts are nothing more than pesky trolling, and don’t compare to those things in the ‘good’ column. When a troll thought arises, acknowledge what it’s trying to do, and then move it aside.
Sixth: You have to be your own best friend sometimes; beating yourself up isn’t productive.
When all else fails, and you’re still beating yourself up and feeling inadequate, it’s time to go into overdrive and change your perspective?
Would you say those abusive things to your best friend? Would you say them to your child? Would you say them to a person in crisis?
If the answer is yes, get some therapy because you are toxic. Most likely, though, the answer is no, you would never call your child a failure, or your best friend a loser, or a person in crisis that they don’t measure up. So stop effing doing that to yourself.
There are times when you need to get outside of your own head and be your own best friend, and when you’re engaged in negative self-talk, take it as an opportunity to change your perspective.
And remember, this isn’t going to transform you overnight. Changing and growing takes time. You weren’t born at your adult height, were you? (If so, you are in a medical textbook.) So don’t expect immediate results — it’s a process that takes time.