Maybe it’s because the New Year’s holiday and my birthday fall in the same week forcing me into much more self-evaluation than I am equipped to handle, but I have been thinking a lot about the oh-so-popular “I am enough” movement. And I do think it’s fair to call it a movement, one designed for women. Just Google “I am enough” and you’ll discover countless blog posts proclaiming it as a mantra, Etsy stores full of “I am enough” jewelry and inspirational posters, several Facebook groups, and don’t even get me started on the “I am enough” Instagram photos (25,478 at last count). And at the start of 2015 the phrase has become the rallying cry of the anti-new year’s resolutions crowd: “you are enough. You don’t need to change. You are perfect just as you are.”
Except that sometimes you aren’t perfect just as you are.
Sometimes you suck.
Sorry but it’s true.
Now, before you fire off an angry comment or dismiss me as a hater, let me clarify that in many ways I am a fan of the “I am enough” movement. I get it. I really do. The U.S. media and the culture it perpetuates, makes women feel like shit. We are too fat or too thin. Too girly or too manly. Too pushy (dare I say “bossy“?) or too passive. And lord help you if you publicly declare that you are or are not a feminist (I’m unapologetically feminist, in case you were wondering). And being a mother adds an additional layer of cultural bullshit onto all of this. Home birth or hospital birth? Breast or bottle? Public school? Montessori? Waldorf? Home school? Unschool? How about discipline? Love and Logic? Conscious discipline? Positive discipline? You’ll notice I skipped over the whole minefield that is food. The fact that there are whole books devoted to making your own baby food makes my head hurt. And bento boxes? WTF? The mommy wars have so many battlefields that I’d need a team of military historians to keep track of them all.
In the midst of all these unrealistic and contradictory expectations that work to divide women and make us feel bad about ourselves, “I am enough” is a much-needed ceasefire. The thing that’s been bothering me about it is the way it often seems to encourage a belief that everything one does is OK, and that’s just not true. Sometimes we suck and we need to do something about it. This is definitely true in my own life. I had (OK, have, but just for four more months) a stressful job I hated, and it was spiraling me into a depression that was making my whole family miserable. I was picking fights with my husband, refusing to go on family outings, and using my responsibilities at work (lesson planning, grading…) and home (laundry, cleaning…) as excuses to disengage. I felt overwhelmed by everything in my life and was beating myself up because (in my estimation) I was failing at everything. When I first heard “I am enough” it was definitely a movement I could get behind, and it was a good, maybe necessary starting point for turning my life around. But that’s the thing—it was only a starting point.
It helped me realize that my worth did not come from external cultural markers of success such as what size I wore or how much money I made or whether I made my own organic baby food. When I connected “I am enough” to the Buddhist concept of basic goodness it helped me make the connection between self-compassion and responsibility for my actions:
…when you relax more and appreciate your body and mind, you begin to contact the fundamental notion of basic goodness in yourself. So it is extremely important to be willing to open yourself to yourself.
Developing tenderness towards yourself allows you to see both your problems and your potential accurately. You don’t feel that you have to ignore your problems or exaggerate your potential. That kind of gentleness towards yourself and appreciation of yourself is very necessary. It provides the ground for helping yourself and others. —Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
The key is in seeing “both your problems and your potential accurately.” I needed to stop beating myself up and stop measuring my worth by the ridiculous standards set by the mommy bloggers and those who read them. (And yes, I do recognize the irony that I am a mommy blogger of sorts, but I certainly don’t claim to have any parenting advice or to know the right way to do anything, which should be apparent by this post.) I needed to give myself a break, get some perspective on what was really possible, and stop striving for perfection. I also needed to look my problems in the eye. Taking out my frustrations with my career choices on my husband was not OK. Withdrawing from family life and replacing it with an OCD-like obsession with cleaning and organizing was not OK. Allowing depression to take over my life was not OK. I was not OK. So I got a therapist, began working seriously on a career change, and started meditating. I needed to learn how to be present in my own life instead of running from it in search of some perfect version of myself.
I am enough because I possess basic goodness.
I am worthy of love and belonging (as Brené Brown puts it) because I am human.
knowing these things does not mean my ways of relating to my life are all OK.
I am enough doesn’t mean we don’t have any growing to do. It’s about shifting our priorities and our values from the external cultural markers of success to internally cultivated states of being—generosity, empathy, contentment. This knowledge is my support, what gives me the courage to love the life I have and the courage to confront my problems so I may be present in it. This is my hope for the new year—that I will have the courage to keep learning and growing from the inside out.