How do you know what is “enough”?

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Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

How do I know I’ve done enough? That I am enough? That this is enough?

This article is cross-posted from my weekly newsletter, The Sunday Soother, a newsletter about clarity, intention, and useful tips for creating more meaning in your life that goes out every Sunday morning. Subscribe here. I am also a coach who works with sensitive people so they can stop second-guessing, make decisions confidently and live the life they’ve always dreamed of. You can learn more about working with me here.

You can listen to this essay as audio here

These were the questions that started pinging my inbox, one by one, when I shared some prompts and thoughts about the inner critic on my Instagram recently, eventually turning into a steady flood.

I had done a poll on what course folks wanted me to create next, and had thrown in a course on the inner critic almost as an afterthought.

It got almost three times as many votes as any of the other options.

Intellectually, of course, I know that people struggle with inner critics but I hadn’t realized it was so prevalent amongst my audience. (I’m not sure why, since my journey with my inner critic has been a defining part of my life, but sometimes I miss this stuff in others.)

Intrigued, I asked questions.

“What does your inner critic say to you?”
“What do you want to know about your inner critic?”
“What is the hardest part of having an inner critic?”

And the enoughness themes came through so strong.

“It tells me I’ve never done enough.”

“It tells me I could always be doing more, and I’m lazy for not.”

“You’re not good enough.”

Enough, enough, enough.

The flood of responses and their theme of enoughness, or not-enoughness, got me intrigued by the overall concept of “enough” and why we, and our inner critics, struggle so heavily with it.

As I often do when looking to more deeply understand a concept, I turned first to the dictionary. Here’s what showed up:

So the word and concept itself can be explained intellectually and logically, but it eludes a meaningful definition of knowing when it comes to us as individuals: what does “enough” look like for each of us, in different situations?

And that’s where I find people getting stuck, especially in regards to their inner critics:

We’re looking, as we do in so many areas of our life where we feel we need validation, for others to define what “enough” looks like for us.

But I think that the honest truth is that “enough” is a carrot dangled in front of us externally by systems or others who benefit from us believing we’re lacking. A carrot that will always be hanging just out of reach, that will be snatched away at the last second with the promise of just a little more work, a little harder trying, a little “if only you…”

So how do you stop chasing the punitive carrot that you’ll never get to taste, and settle into where you are, instead?

I think the answer lies in reclaiming the word “enough.”

It means defining what “enough” looks like for you personally, in any given situation.

And trust me: this is actually a lot harder than it might seem.

See, when we’re stuck in a relationship with inadequacy, or any relationship that is harming or undermining us, I do believe that at some level, we are in fact actually somehow benefitting, even if it is in a very small way, from the set up of the situation.

In our current toxic relationship with enoughness, the fact that we’ve been allowing others to define enoughness for us means that we do not have to make the difficult decision of reclaiming our personal agency in the decision of enoughness. We don’t have to be the ones deciding what enough is, and that’s a relief, in its way.

I learned this in a really tough way when I started working for myself. In ways I hadn’t truly understood until I stepped out of them, I had truly benefited and felt comforted by knowing exactly what was expected of me; 40 hours a week; this many projects; that many metrics, and in turn I would get this much money, that many benefits, and this kind of office. Though I often also felt trapped by those expectations, there was a deep sense of comfort in having somebody else make those definitions and decisions for me.

So when I stepped into working for myself, I flailed deeply without those expectations of enoughness in place, struggling frantically to replicate them, then out do them, then abandon them, and finally redefine them, for me, and me only, trying on uncertainly the act of deciding I actually knew exactly what I needed.

See, if you are chasing somebody else’s definition of enoughness, you are allowing others to define expectations and outcomes for what your effort and entire life should look like. An individual definition and reclamation of enoughness is us putting a stake in the ground, come what may, and accepting what that means for us, accepting responsibility, and also accepting how others might push back against it.

That’s the scary part.

If you’re struggling with enoughness, may I invite you into the practice of beginning to define what enough actually looks like for you, by you?

Here are a few places to start.

I hope one of these tips centers you and encourages you to begin a journey of reclaiming and defining your enoughness in the world.

Because you are the one that gets to decide, and that’s both a liberating blessing and a responsibility to your own personal power.

It’s time to step into it.

PS: Don’t forget to sign up for the free intuition challenge here! We start February 14th.

Teaching awakening + healing through vulnerability + self-compassion. Finding hope in a messy world. Author of the Sunday Soother.

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