No matter what you do, it never quite feels good enough, does it?
You may be growing a career, plodding your way through a difficult university course, or rearing a brood of children…it doesn’t matter what forum of life we’re talking about. In everything you do, you’re nagged by the sense that your efforts aren’t quite good enough.
Today, I am writing specifically for a few of my clients who struggle with this lack of self-belief, knowing that at least a handful of my readers (if not more), will know exactly what I’m talking about.
You see, so many people, and none more than those with ADHD, struggle with the notion that they should be doing better than they are. They should have gotten a better grade. They should have a better paid job. They should be a more patient parent, with exemplary kids, who excel in all they do.
I have felt this sense of “less-than” on many occasions. For example, I worked my butt off on my Post-Graduate dissertation and was rewarded with merit – only a few points short of a distinction mark.
A few of my classmates did get distinctions. I should have been celebrating my achievement but instead I was disgruntled with myself. I was just as smart as them, wasn’t I? Why wasn’t my best effort good enough to raise my work to the status my colleagues achieved? My topic was original and poignant, I nailed the arguments, used all the right language and references….
But somebody didn’t think it was good enough.
But actually – a merit is pretty good. In fact, just passing the course was quite an achievement. And heck – even being enrolled and showing up for the classes was quite a feat. When I come to think of it, my essay writing involved a grotesque process, with coffee-stained papers littering my living room for days, garbage piling up in the corners of the room, maintaining the upkeep of the resident mice in my South London flat. It was utter chaos. I should have been proud that I even handed that 10,000-word whopper in. Yet I was dismayed that I didn’t get the best mark. Not by a long shot.
It’s because, secretly, I never felt like I was good enough to be taking part in that Post-Grad in the first place. I felt like a fraud, rising above my station. In my mind, I had to do the best, in order to prove I was worthy. Anything less than best would show me up.
Well, I guess I got showed up. And what has it meant to my life since then?
It’s ridiculous when I think of it. But we all apply this logic to our thinking at times.
It’s called “focusing on the outcome”. As in: I’ll be good enough when I am successful. Or when I am rich. Or when my kids are successful. Or when I get to the top of the corporate latter.
But “when” never comes. The bar we measure ourselves against lifts itself higher and higher.
I realize, as I write this, this topic is not unique. But I’m writing about it anyway, because I feel I’ve got to say this:
My ADD comrades – they tend to judge themselves extremely harshly. I know many ADDers who feel like they have to work harder and do better than everyone else, just so they can feel good enough. Note what I just said: good enough. They don’t want to feel better than everyone else. But the only way they get to feel like equals, is to excel.
Not really a fair contest is it?
We’ve all had plenty of reasons to feel “not-good-enough”. Always late. Never paying attention. Breaking things. Failing classes. Losing jobs….When our lives are dotted with experiences like these, how can we learn to feel proud of ourselves? Or, at the very least, like we are good enough?
Go back in time. Somewhere along the line, that message was fed to you like an airplane-spoon full of porridge into a baby’s mouth. Somebody or somebodies made you feel like you didn’t measure up to what was expected of you. They made you feel screwed up.
But when you look over these times, you’ll always ignore one fact. Those people who made you feel screwed up… were just as screwed up themselves. They’d been elevated to status of judge-jury-and-executor when they had no right to have that kind of influence over your entire self-perception. Those in glass houses, right? But it didn’t matter – their perceptions hooked your psyche like fishing in a barrel.
But the truth is – we’re all screwed up. Every. Single. Person.
So what’s there to feel proud of?
Feel proud of your efforts. Not of the outcome, but of your efforts. Feel proud that you showed up and did the work. That you tried, even when the trying got hard. That you pushed yourself past your own limits. That you learned when you messed up. That you learned some more when you messed up again. That you kept trying. Whether or not anyone noticed it. Whether or not you got that grade. That bonus. That promotion. That whatever.
Those things do not define your worth as a person. They are only minor benchmarks in the timeline of your life span. When you measure yourself – only against yourself – and focus only on the effort you make each step of the way… that’s when you get to feel the kind of pride in yourself that never goes away.