Enough is (Your) Enough

A few weeks ago,  a friend was talking about her goals.

I want to see my friends enough.

I want to see my family enough.

I want to exercise enough.

I want to eat enough healthy food.

I want to meditate enough.

I want to volunteer enough.

Notice the theme?

I remember a journal entry that I wrote when I was in college.  It’s a journal entry that is bittersweet to me now because I know so much more about the heart of the girl who wrote that passage.

I wrote the passage one summer, when I was working at an intensive, residential high school program for under-resourced African American kids from the city.  I worked that program for years and every summer was intense as we really faced the heartaches and pains our students suffered.  In my journal, I was reflecting on that summer, on whether or not I had done enough.

I don’t just want to do my best, I wrote.  Because I might somehow justify less than enough if I just try to do my best.  I want to do enough, I exclaimed to my journal.  I want to do enough so that they don’t have these hurts any more, they don’t face these pains.  I want to do enough so that life isn’t as hard anymore.  I want to do enough so that they can each more easily make their way in this world.

And then I offered a prayer.  Please, God, please help me to do enough.  Don’t let me talk myself into doing less.  Please, God, please help me change the count so we can change the consequence.  Get enough out of me.  Not just my best.  But enough of my best.

I share my memories of this journal entry with you to let you know that I have some history with the word enough.  Enough, you see, is my kryptonite.  Enough, for a long time, was the barometer I would use to judge my worth.

And enough, as you might remember, almost killed me.  What I have come to know about the word enough is that it is an impossible barometer.  Without any underpinnings, enough is a moving target.  You move towards it, it darts away further, teasing you to come towards it, always telling you that you can do more, more, more.  Enough is an impossible boss.  It is insatiable.  It is demanding.  It can be mean.  Enough can show up anywhere (Am I skinny enough, pretty enough, smart enough, kind enough, successful enough, athletic enough, strong enough, disciplined enough, rich enough, respected enough, revered enough, and on and on) and never go home.  Enough can become a compulsion, a second skin that keeps you from being satisfied because there is always more to achieve.

Eventually, I broke up with enough.  I had to or enough was going to break me down.  Now, I set goals for myself, I eye possibility, but enough is no longer my rule.  I like the journey instead.  I write a birthday list every year but I don’t have to do enough of it.  I just try and enjoy it.  I set Fall Frolic lists and monthly goals and, again, they are just suggestions, with no judgment behind them.  Enough is no longer my thing.

But I know that it is still a big thing for many people, especially many women.  Women who interpreted the gains we have made in women’s rights not as “I can do anything” but as “I have to do everything”.  Woman who have bought into the idea that the media gives us that we must constantly be embracing a body project.  Women who need not just to be Super Women but to be Super Women with a side dose of effortless perfection.  Women who, like me for so long, want to be and do enough.

And so I asked my friend two tough questions.  The first question was how she would know when it was enough– enough seeing of her family or friends, enough exercise or volunteering.  And whose enough was she honoring?

And she was silent.  Because if I had asked those questions with a big ole’ bucket of silence in between them, instead of running them right onto each other, then all of her answers to question number one would have been”well my family would be happy and so then I could know it was enough” or “the school would never go without a volunteer and so I would know it was enough”.  And those answers gave clarity to the answer to her second question which was that every single enough was determined by someone else.

It’s like that, isn’t it?  All of it.

Take our body image woes for example.  We want to be skinny enough for other people to be happy with our bodies.  We’re not so worried about what it would take to be happy with our body (note to you and me: what it takes to be happy with our body isn’t about our body changing at all, it is about our mind changing.  Do that and the whole world opens up.  And it is amazing what happens when we start to be nice to our bodies).

Or our family or friend woes.  We do everything we can to please that un-pleasable person in our lives.  We adjust our plans (our relationships, weddings, jobs, homes) to make them happy.  We adjust our attitude, our approach.  Heck, we change our needs or even what we expect of them.  And they just keep barbing, disappointing, and doing things however the heck they want with no consideration of us.  And they can, because we are trying so hard to do enough to change the dynamic relationship.  And, yet, the relationship cannot change because only one part of the dyad (you, me) has decided that the change is needed and desired.  The other part of the dyad is reveling in what all of your desire for enoughness means for her or him.

If we are measuring our enough on someone else’s happiness is not ever going to get met.  We’re always going to come up short, because that person is always going to be willing to ask for and expect more.  Why wouldn’t he or she?  It’s just too easy not to do so.

And so our enough becomes a slippery, punishing slope.  You will give until you give out.  It is when you give out, strung out like dish cloth with not one more drip in you, that you’ll realize that you hit enough and well where does that leave you?  At best, exhausted.  At worse?  Well, worse.

The truth is that if your enough is a punishing measure, then you have to let it go.  It’s a bad ruler, a slippery slope, a tease.

Your enough, you see, has to truly become your own.  Just a way to gauge that you are invested and satisfied with your journey but that you are able to look past the hard edges of judgment instead sit in the satisfaction of knowing you did your best to try.

Can you work today to make enough your enough?  What impossible rules have you been setting for yourself?  Whose standards have you been honoring?  What standards of your own true north would you rather embrace?

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2 responses to “Enough is (Your) Enough”

  1. CJ @ Fill the Well

    Striving to be “enough” – for my family, for my friends, for society – has paralyzed me from taking necessary next steps. I’m at a professional transition point, and I need to make a choice about which direction to choose – but I’ve shot down every option with destructive expectations of being “enough.” If I choose this option, I won’t be successful ENOUGH for my family. If I choose that, I won’t earn ENOUGH to justify my college education. If I choose the other, I won’t be creative/original ENOUGH so that my friends will think I’m cool. I have to let this go. It’s completely paralyzing, because you’re right – no option will ever be ENOUGH for another person. I have to find my own enough.

  2. Cecile

    I used to be living in a rush, always wanting to save the whole planet. I just couldn’t give enough out of myself – damned clock, only 24 hours a day?! And I never ever was able to do enough, there was always more to accomplish, because yes, in someone else’s eyes, if I was able to do, let’s say 120%, it would probably be possible to reach 125%. And in my eyes, not reaching the goal would be “not enough”. Vicious circle. I would have a daily list of priorities, though. The kind with 10 points that absolutely have to be done today, though 1 or 2 would have been more realistic – but not enough.

    My current limitations wiped abruptly the slate clean. My current priority list? “If I have enough energy to do one thing today, and nothing in the coming days, what would I do? And in case I don’t have enough energy for that one thing, how can I split it?” Not the same kind of enough.
    I realized yesterday: even if I am currently a shadow of myself in term of energy, I feel that I am right as I am, in the right place and at the right time. I feel an inner peace like never before. I’ve found my enough.

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