I am Enough

During September, I was honored to be a part of Tracey Clark’s I am enough collaborative. The following is a copy of the text I wrote for it. I just wanted to have a copy on my own site, too.

There’s this one scene in the movie Pretty Woman where Vivian is lying in bed with Edward. The dialogue goes like this:

Vivian: People put you down enough, you start to believe it.

Edward: I think you are a very bright, very special woman.

Vivian: The bad stuff is easier to believe. You ever notice that?

It might seem simple and cliché but I still remember, years later, how true that rang for me. The bad stuff is easier to believe. That has always been the case for me and throughout my life I always thought I had several legitimate “reasons” why I felt this way.

I grew up with a particularly good-looking set of friends. This coupled with childhood cruelty meant that I heard over and over again how ugly I was and how I simply didn’t fit in. For the longest time, this was my biggest excuse for feeling like I wasn’t enough. I would never be pretty enough. I would never be wanted. I would never be loved.

While my social life and self-image were both lacking, I did have areas of strength. I’ve always been a relatively good student. I am not a genius by any definition, but I graduated from a top college with multiple degrees. I then went on to work on Wall Street where I became a Vice President. I quit that to become a teacher for Teach For America. Then I moved across the country and got another job, which then led me to my current job with Google. I know of many people whose careers are far better than mine, but this is not an area (unlike my looks) where I was teased, discouraged, or showed signs of failure. If anything, I was a success.

And yet, it was an event at work that finally showed me how deep my insecurities went.

A few years ago, I was sitting in my office when I got a call that my manager was looking for me, could I please come down to his office. My mind immediately went to the bad stuff. He is going to fire me, I thought. While a small part of my mind whispered, “Why would he fire you?” the rest of me easily squashed that sensible voice. By the time I made it down the twenty steps, I was sweating and freaking out. When I walked into his office, he asked me to close the door. If I needed a final sign (and I didn’t) this was it. He was letting me go.

The next thing my manager did was to pull out a sheet of paper and show me the extra stock I was receiving for being a good employee.

I kid you not.

I was getting a bonus and that’s why he wanted to see me.

This one moment changed my life. It was such a clear picture of how out of whack my sense of self was that I could no longer deny it. I could no longer use my childhood friends as an excuse for not feeling enough. They might have made fun of my looks but they never called me stupid. On the contrary, they made fun of me for working too hard, reading too much, being too bright. So the worry that I wasn’t good enough for this job had nothing to do with them.

I finally had to admit that it was all coming from me. Somewhere along the line, I had embraced the “I am not enough” mentality and I was liberally applying it to all areas of my life. I am not pretty enough. I am not thin enough. I am not smart enough. I am not good enough. I am not enough.

This mentality has limited my life in so many ways. From the small things like how I haven’t worn a bathing suit in years or refuse to dance to the big things like not going after exciting opportunities because I feel I don’t deserve them or not standing up for myself when I am clearly being wronged. It has also meant that I live every minute of my life trying to measure up to a nonexistent example of “ideal.” I read other people’s blogs or watch my friends’ lives and take the very best of everyone and everything and wonder why I don’t have it. Why can’t I exercise that often? How come I can’t be the perfect mom? How come my art never looks like that? I constantly live with the fear that the people around me will finally wake up and realize that I really am not enough. My husband will leave, my boss will fire me, friends will stop calling, etc, etc.

Doesn’t it tire you just to read about it?

The fact is, it’s a lot of work to feel so inadequate all the time. It’s a lot of work to feel so sorry for myself. To feel so much anxiety. To be so sad all the time. To worry constantly.

So I’ve decided it’s time to let it all go. I’ve never been one for moderation. For me, it’s do or don’t do. I look at the person I’ve become and the constant worry I live with, and I know that I don’t want my kids to grow up with that around them. I don’t want them to see a mom who’s too insecure to dance. I don’t want to spend my days worrying about my work or my marriage ending. More importantly, I want my kids to grow up knowing that they are enough. They are strong enough, beautiful enough, and intelligent enough. They have everything they need. They are everything they need. And how can I help them build that mindset if I don’t have it myself?

Since the incident in my manager’s office, I’ve been focusing on taking responsibility for feeling inadequate. My childhood friends might have done some strong, initial damage but I chose to live with that story. I chose to carry it with me all these years and make it a part of who I am. Let it define me and my choices. I can only get rid of it if I take responsibility for its existence and my part in feeding it.

If I look into myself on a good day and stop focusing so hard on what other people might think, deep deep down, I see that reserve of strength. The quiet voice that tells me I really am enough. And that I can do this. I can let all the worry go and people will still be here and still love me and just being me, as I am, is enough. For anything. For everything.

It’s time to let that voice speak up. It’s time to stop believing the bad stuff and embrace the good. I deserve it. I am enough.

9 comments to I am Enough

  • Diane

    BRAVO Karen! So many people feel the same way, including myself. For me specifically, the dread of “Can you come in” and then the door closing! I would have been in complete panic. I’m always surprised when people compliment my work and abilities, and I really shouldn’t be.
    Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  • Ileana

    You are definitely enough. Every time I see one of the pictures you take, I am amazed of how beautiful your children are (a reflection of you, of course). Your BPS classes are so inspiring and down to earth. Your art (even though you are allowed to see it differently) is very inspiring and you should remember that art, once out of the artist, belongs to the public. I am in love with your LOs and find them simple, beautiful and so meaningful. Last (but of course, not least) I find you are a lovely woman, it shows in the way you write, in your voice, and of course, in your pictures. You should never doubt that. I understand the hurt behind it, and why you were led to feel that way. But ask any of your kids who is the most beautiful woman on earth. The way they see you, shows your heart.

  • PatP

    Bravo Karen!

    That’s all correct! I’m so glad you are getting that, I can sense that you feel that way. You are good enough, as a matter of fact you are terrific!

    My trick when I feel judgemental towards myself is to ask myself how I would judge others that are in the exact same situation. And you know what? We are never as harsh towards others as we are with ourselves. One of my “rules for a happy marriage” is to always be polite to your loved ones. Why would you not offer your best to the people you love, when you freely give that to strangers? The same principal applies to self judgement. Why would you beat yourself up for something you would be accepting of in others?

    Keep up the good work! You will be so much happier when you can totally let that judgemental voice go. It takes time, it’s been around a long time, but I think you are on the right track!

    Have a great evening!

    • karenika

      you are so right!! we are so much harder on ourselves and our loved ones. i could not agree more and i think of this often, now. thank you 🙂

  • Karen Piskor

    I TRULY believe that I was brought to your blog for THIS very BLOG POST! I am sharing it with my Mom, who, just like YOU has suffered from these same “inadequate” feelings for most of her life!!!!! I pray this will touch her as it has touched my heart. I’m so happy that you are enjoying a BRAND NEW LIFE………..as the BEAUTIFUL PERSON you were created as! THANKS BUNCHES for sharing these intimate feelings. Karen from Michigan

  • karen, the hairs on my arms are straight up, my heart has just been pierced. you have just written my story with your details. thank you for your bravery and for helping me to see that it is my choice to let go. thank you. thank you.

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