On Being Enough: An Open Musing (Part 1)

“Oh my God, you need so much help.”

This is the number one thing people love to hear when they’re picking out outfits, especially when it’s for a first date. This is a fact that has been proven by science.

I can attest to the truth of this, as it was this exact phrase I was met with when soliciting opinions on how to dress prior to meeting someone at my favorite local coffee shop.

Prior to that point, I was asking from a place of indecision. Now my request carried higher stakes, calling into question my taste levels: my conception of something that was a mix of tasteful and polished without being boring or too try-hard was clearly a complete misfire.

Later that night, I went online to freshen up my wardrobe, thinking it had been a while since I last bought something new for myself.

Scanning through the outlet sites of brands I’d shopped frequently over the years to no avail, a second thought inserted itself into my consciousness, reminding me that these were brands on which the sun had set in terms of wide appeal.

I was forced to confront the idea that — as someone who held himself to be at least somewhat well-dressed — I no longer had the faintest clue of what it meant to be fashionable in 2017.

And so for the first time, I found myself checking out Stitch Fix. I balked at the premise that someone could be so busy as to surrender such a means of self-expression either to a person or an algorithm — surely nothing they picked could capture my need for clothing with personality — yet here I electronically stood, seeking social acceptance via mode.

It’s not unlike findings from Spotify about “musical midlife crises”, in which middle-aged adults reintroduce pop music to their musical diet in order to recapture a sense of youth. Or more personally, my abdication of dressing comfortably in favor of head-to-toe Hollister when I made the jump from a small private school to public high school, desperate to camouflage myself as one of the cool kids.

(The ruse was up almost immediately; geometry proofs were far more fun for me than I’d care to admit.)

How could a single comment make such waves in my life? Surely I’d matured a bit over the course of 10+ years.

I would credit such an outsized reaction as adding to a larger set of internal questions poking at my insecurity, including but not limited to:

· Am I intelligent enough?

· Am I interesting enough?

· Am I well-spoken enough?

· Am I attractive enough?

· Am I talented enough?

· Am I special enough?

To which “am I well-dressed enough?” was added. From this,

It’s clear that the focus around which my anxieties swirl is a question of worthiness; of whether I am enough.

Left unanswered, these questions can contribute to an anxiety that eats away at self-esteem until a tipping point similar to the one I experienced is reached. Left unchallenged, these questions can dominate our thoughts, emotions, actions and lives.

In Rising Strong, Brené Brown defines our gut-reaction answers to these types of questions as our own Shitty First Draft (or, when teaching these concepts to younger audiences, our Stormy First Drafts).

It’s important to note that these thoughts are first drafts, and similar to an essay in college, accepting the first draft as a final product is more often than not detrimental.

In the same way that editing can be a drag, so too is often what between point A and point B.

On a related note, in Rising Strong, Brown states her admiration for a quote by Theodore Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

A lovely quote, to be sure. But what does it mean as it pertains to our feelings of worth?

In this case, Roosevelt’s quote refers to a willingness to live boldly, accepting the necessary risks and potential pitfalls that come with doing so to have the chance at finding achievement and fulfillment beyond that which marginal.

It’s through this willingness that we find ourselves on the top pedestal of the podium, or commanding the spotlight, or receiving accolades for our marvelous triumphs.

But there is an inherent permission that must be granted to ourselves in order to find this success. It’s to recognize that shortfalls are inevitable, and that getting knocked down is most likely going to be an unpleasant experience.

This is fine. This should not surprise us; indeed, we should expect ourselves to stumble and do our best to ready ourselves for the sting that follow. This type of anticipation is what keeps us pushing forward humanly, rather than allowing adversity to derail our dreams or deluding ourselves into believing that we feel no pain or disappointment from coming up short.

When we realize coming up short is endemic to pursuing our dreams and goals, it provides the liberty to do so wholeheartedly — the misfires aren’t because we’re not enough, it’s because they’re a fact of life.