It’s a horrible feeling, when I think I’m not enough. I look around and see others — running much further, pushing their ideas through with much more certainty, and asserting their “look” much more confidently than I ever could or would. They’re so sure of themselves, I think. What’s wrong with me? I work so hard. Why aren’t I enough?
Our feelings about ourselves are painfully intertwined with what others think of us. A friend picked up on my frustrations after a particularly rough day, and gave me the book Daring Greatly
, by Brene Brown
“Emotions aren’t a bad thing. They just show that you’re passionate,” she said. “Read this book. I think it’ll help.”
I began reading, and immediately felt like someone understood what I was going through:
“[O]ur worthiness, that core belief that we are enough, comes only when we live inside our story. We either owned our stories (even the messy ones) or we stand outside of them—denying our vulnerabilities and imperfections, orphaning the parts of us that don’t fit in with who/what we think we’re supposed to be, and hustling for other people’s approval of our worthiness.” (Brene Brown, Daring Greatly)
“Seinfeld is shameless; Louie is steeped in shame…Louie
…is a show about everything; about the unbearable too-muchness of life. Whipsawed between his urges and his ideals, his crankiness and humanism, Louie struggles to figure out how to live (and raise his children) the right way in a world that rewards living wrong. Louie’s unflagging alertness to the existential conundrums of being human is exhausting.”
The unbearable too-muchness of life leads to that culture of never enough that Brown highlights as problematic in her book. We feel like we should be able to do it all, but never get a realistic grasp on what exactly entails “it all”, how we’re supposed to get there and what the end result will be (aside from a deeply flawed conception that once we get there, we’ll be forever and ultimately happy without a care in the world.)
Brown shares that there are different ways we mask our vulnerabilities, which include perfectionism — looking desperately outside yourself and relying on others to give you the affirmation you need — and numbing — deciding to temporarily cover your pain with compulsive behaviors.
“Shame enters for those of us who experience anxiety because not only are we feeling fearful, out-of-control, and incapable of managing our increasingly demanding lives, but eventually our anxiety is compounded and made unbearable by our belief that if we were just smarter, stronger, or better, we’d be able to handle everything. Numbing here becomes a way to take the edge off of both instability and inadequacy.” (Brene Brown, Daring Greatly, 139)”
There’s also something called foreboding joy, which is assuming everything good will rot. I can’t say that I have much of an inclination toward the latter, but I can absolutely identify with the former ways we cover ourselves. So too, can Louis. Oddly, I find a lot of comfort in knowing that someone as wildly talented as Louis C.K. struggles with numbing his vulnerabilities.
Here’s an audio clip from Louis’ performance in “Chewed Up,” which speaks to that angst and frustration he feels in his anxious aspiration to feel better about himself. In the clip, Louis’ doctor asks him how much he eats and when he stops, “I don’t stop when I’m full. I stop when I hate myself,” he says. Louis isn’t alone, and while his discomfort with his bad behaviors is obviously a point of pain, he shares it with us, his audience. In taking ownership over his experience, Louis produces a kind of comedy that is uniquely personal. He reminds us that we are enough.
Brene Brown believes that we don’t have weaknesses. We have opportunities. And separating our strengths from our weaknesses in a list isn’t helpful feedback — it’s counterproductive and discouraging. We need to work on nurturing a culture — in our professional lives, with our loved ones, with strangers on the street and with ourselves — in which we dismiss the ridiculous notion of perfection and instead embrace a more holistic understanding of who we are and how we can get better together. We have vulnerabilities, and that’s okay. But despite that — scratch that — because of that, we are, and always will be, enough.