I loved my reputation in college. People knew me as a kind and motivated person, someone who provided a thoughtful perspective and who was always willing and happy to listen. It helped that I went to a school where I was constantly surrounded by incredibly intelligent, spirited, and ambitious people. After graduation, all of my friends had big and exciting long-term plans. I wasn’t sure what I would do, but I knew that I had something to add to the world in some to-be-determined way.
Recently life gave me some personal and professional challenges and I returned home to recuperate. Although I stayed busy, I wasn’t doing all the things I thought I would be doing by this time in my life: exercising my creativity, changing lives, feeling fulfilled in my work, contributing positively to the world. The longer I stayed at home the worse I felt. I began to blame myself for my situation, wondering what had happened to my once-celebrated potential. Had I ever really embodied all of these positive qualities that people had supposedly seen in me? Where were these great personality traits now that I needed them?
This week I took a trip to my alma mater, where I dutifully made plans to catch up with all of my college friends. I dreaded the question that eventually came up at every coffee or brunch: “Enough about me… what have you been up to?” I felt like a fraud. These people were doing the wonderful and exciting things I had always known they could, and I wasn’t doing anything. People who had once admired me were now seemingly so far ahead of me in the game of life. Frankly, I felt ashamed.
“Here are these people who once looked up to me, who came to me for advice. I was supposed to be their role model. And now here they are with plans for world travel, scholarships to graduate school, moves to new cities for exciting jobs. And here I am living back at home,” I lamented to a friend over dinner.
I expected a reaction of “That’s tough, I’m sorry,” or “But it makes sense, you’ve been through a lot.” Instead I got something I couldn’t have predicted.
“You’re still that person to me.”
It felt like I was hit in the head with a brick (a brick of wisdom, that is). My friend was right- I had not stopped being this thoughtful, determined, deeply caring, perspective having, advice-giving individual. And on that note, putting my professional pursuits on pause to heal from life’s challenges did not make me unfit to play a positive role in other peoples’ lives. In fact, it made me appreciate those roles far more than I had before.
Lately I have struggled to feel “good enough.” Good enough to find a good job, good enough to give sound advice, good enough to make my alma mater proud. It’s often a revelation when some song or article promises that, no matter how you feel about yourself, you are enough. But now I think that feeling “enough” shouldn’t be the goal. The word “enough” implies that there is a set of requirements, standards, hoops to be jumped through. I don’t want to be “enough” to meet some other standard of success or of happiness. I think I would rather be complete.
I don’t want to feel beautiful enough to look good; I want to feel completely beautiful in a way that encompasses my personality as well as my appearance. I don’t want to feel smart enough to get by; I want to feel completely smart, knowing not just facts but also truths. I don’t want somebody to love me enough to get over my flaws; I want them to love me completely so that they stand with me in addressing them. And I don’t want to be happy enough to survive; I want to be completely happy and at peace with my whole life, even the parts that are hard.
Instead of striving to be enough, we should strive to feel complete. I know that it’s such a hard thing to do; think of how much easier it is to see the good in someone else than it is to see it in yourself. But your self is the person you’re stuck with 24/7, so it might be in your best interest to start really, really liking this “self” person. Your self should not just be enough for you, because you deserve more than enough. Your self should totally complete you.
And if your self is supposed to complete you, maybe you shouldn’t define it by your occupation or by your place in life. Maybe your self should be defined by your ability to find happiness in the best or worst of situations. I don’t care how great your job is or how much money you make, if you get easily upset over things like traffic or chores at home or petty drama at work, you’re not happy and I would never trade lives with you.
I’m way more likely to want the life of a person who finds ways to make life beautiful, who makes friends with strangers on the bus, who transforms banalities into adventures- regardless of that person’s job or living situation or other labels we use to judge success and happiness.
Lo and behold, the person I just described… that’s me. I thought that I wasn’t enough, but maybe I was wrong. I am flawed and stuck and frustrated and spirited and giving and surrounded by truly good people who pick me up when I need it. Because of that, I am not enough.
I am complete.