You think Captain Kirk never looked at the fleet of weapons-primed Klingon Warbirds on the viewscreen and thought “Shitting hell, we’re fucked. Why didn’t I just get a desk job?”?
You think Erin Brockovich never thought “Crap, I’ll never beat these guys, I should quit now“?
You think Jesus never looked at the number of people he had to cater for and thought “Shit, why the hell didn’t I order in“?
You think Jessica Fletcher never saw a dead body and thought, “I don’t have the foggiest idea who did this. I’m going back to Cabot Cove and retiring“?
Yeah, feeling like you’re not good enough is something that’s common to all of us, whether you’re fictional or not.
It’s that thought in your head that never really goes away, making you wonder if you’ll ever be good enough, pulling you back from being seen and sometimes making you believe you’ll always be less than you hoped you could be
I’m assuming you’re not fictional (and if you are, shouldn’t you be off saving the galaxy, getting into a goofy scrape or running through the rain to tell someone you love them?), and there are some very good reasons why you keep on wondering whether you’re good enough. Here are 3 of them.
You Confuse Belonging With Fitting In
We’re hardwired to seek connections with others, programmed to clump together in groups and designed to develop personal relationships with one another.
We can thank Mother Nature for that, and that’s all peachy, but in our media-consuming, product-munching, always-on, gotta-compete society people are running round in circles trying to do the right things in the right ways, and the need to keep those plates spinning and hold it all together is piling on the pressure to fit in and conform to society.
We’re becoming more and more connected to all the stuff we should do in order to fit in and be successful, and more disconnected from the things that have personal meaning. The resulting sense of disconnection and struggle creates a space where you second-guess whether you’re good enough to be accepted as you are.
Fitting in requires that you shape yourself to what you think will make you fit into a system, whereas belonging requires that you present yourself as you really are in order to be a part of something meaningful.
And that’s the thing with belonging—it requires unfeigned participation in order to exist.
You can’t keep a puppy in a small box under your bed and expect the little guy to flourish, and you can’t keep who you are behind a wall and expect to belong to something beyond it
And that, of course, is the tricky part. Belonging is only manifested through unfeigned participation, requiring natural confidence in order to be willing and okay enough to participate as you are, in ways that expose you to the risk of being hurt.
You Observe Success From the Outside
That media-consuming, product-munching, always-on, gotta-compete society I mentioned? It’s driven by the desire to push and succeed.
It’s a perfectly understandable desire that’s been woven through human history. We push at the edges of our knowledge, seek out problems to solve, innovate solutions, push some more, connect ideas and make gigantic strides forwards.
It’s arguably the defining trait of humanity (you don’t see buffalo or squid doing it, right?) and the results of this are all around us—medicine, flight, skyscrapers, education, smartphones, cronuts. Okay, maybe not that last one.
This works on a personal level too. You want to get a great result, you want it soon, you want to win, you want to “make it”. And there’s the rub.
You observe the success that someone else appears to achieve and
perceive a gap between you and them, a gap that’s interpreted as
a disparity of status, achievement and even ability.
A gap that makes them better than and you less than
Processing “success” is something that’s hardwired into us, with a 2002 study into primates showing that monkeys who were higher in the pecking order had lower baseline cortisol levels (the stress hormone), living longer and being healthier.
While (hopefully) not as hairy, we’re not so different. Your brain is wired to figure out where you sit in the professional and social pecking order against others, with your brain using similar neuronal circuits as it does when processing numbers to calculate a “score”, but also to seek to elevate or reinforce your position in that pecking order. Yep, we’re hardwired to be assholes sometimes.
Of course, any perception of success is purely subjective. What we don’t see is the journey to a “success event”, how long that took, the effort expended, the sacrifices or compromises made, or the degree of personal meaning, resonance or difference derived from the event.
We’ve conflated success and self-worth to the point where you routinely question whether you’re as good as everyone else appears to be, but true success can only ever be about how meaningfully engaged you are in your life and the difference you make as a result of that engagement.
Natural confidence provides the foundation and tools to pierce through the fog of perceived success, and removes the perception of better than / less than by making you enough, right now, no questions.
You Don’t Want to Let People Down
God knows I have high standards. A pretty damn good reputation too. And I hate letting people down. I’m guessing you can relate.
In your professional life in particular, your reputation counts for a lot. Screw stuff up, piss someone off or don’t deliver what you said you would, and you never know when that’s going to pop up and bite you.
That’s a lot of pressure; pressure that’s exacerbated at those times in life when all eyes are on you. Perhaps in a new job, maybe with new responsibility, or perhaps even in a new relationship—when the attention’s focused on you, along comes the additional pressure of expectation.
Your expectations of what you think you can do or deliver.
Your expectations of what your next move is.
Your expectations of what other people expect you can do or deliver.
Your expectations of what other people expect your next move is.
These first-party and third-party expectations fly around in front of your face, but instead of swatting them away like fruit flies you breath them in and make them your own.
Assumed and often conflicting expectations create stories in your head, stories that inevitably make you wonder what happens when others’ high expectations aren’t met.They’ll think less of you. They’ll see you fail. They’ll see that you’re not good enough.
You’ll be exposed as not being good enough.
Creating expectations around what others expect of you is an exercise
that only results in self-doubt, and can even make you
behave in ways that create the appearance of being good enough
to live up to expectations, when the way you feel is, in fact, the opposite
So, if putting your focus on not wanting to fall short of first and third-party expectations creates feelings of not being good enough, what about putting your focus on having things be easier?
Surely an easier way through is to focus on your best, and to trust that your best is enough.
Once again, this requires that you cast-off the things that make you feel protected (yes, as damaging as they can be, expectations make you feel protected) and engage with things as you really are.
Story-telling, pretending and protecting are all understandable habits, particularly in a world like ours. They even feel good for a while. But soon enough, the walls they create and the feigned participation they lead to will have you feeling as though you’ll never be good enough.
So, the choice really is a simple one.
You ready to make it?