“… let the soft animal of your body love what it loves …” (Mary Oliver)
Hearing these words recited this morning brought tears for how unkind I’ve been to myself. Judging. Dissatisfied. Rarely grateful, welcoming, or loving. Sixty-nine years of life with this harsh and critical voice in my head. Why?
Not Good Enough. A witchy figure sits in the corner of the room, hovering in a dark shadow over the open notebook of my manuscript. She wags a disapproving finger at me. Exhorting, demanding, criticizing. The time I spend on writing and editing is not good enough. The effort, the creativity, the authenticity I put into the manuscript—not good enough. The manuscript in its entirety … not … good … enough.
Imagine my surprise at my niece’s response to my whining self-disparagement.
“It’s 860-some pages! Ridiculously too long. It must be cut down.”
Upon hearing this, she gasped. “860 pages! I’d be clapping at such an achievement.”
Clapping? How is it possible that clapping has not once occurred to me?
She and I ponder our shared burden, carrying this harsh and heavy inner figure on our backs for as long as we can remember. A hag who goes on and on, endlessly repeating insults: Inadequate. Insufficient. Not good enough.
Can we try to see her differently? What if she needs our help? What if our hag were partnered with a light-bearing sprite? Might she be less miserable? For miserable she surely is, hence, misery is what she brings. What if, rather than wishing to banish our witch from the house of our psyche, we were to accept her as part of the inner multiplicity of being? Each subpersonality haunts … or … offers to guide, remind, inspire. What if we were to dig deeper, to look for what emotions, needs, and complexities drive Not Good Enough? She could embody the (distorted) longing to give, create, and be our best selves. She could personify too-high standards, the urge for creative expression that has sadly run amok. Perfectionism carries a fearful and desperate wish to be in control. When life, disappointment, love, or grief unsettle our sense of how we need our world to be, we may ally or bind ourselves to perfectionism. Not Good Enough. When we are less than aware of whose arms we’re running into, we lose the opportunity to choose. When we judge the judge, we’re caught on the treadmill of futility and self-harm. If on the other hand, we give every inner voice a receptive ear, every figure in our inward cosmos a seat at the table, we might find they have something to say, something to remind us of, something to teach. Even Not Good Enough.
Not Good Enough might serve to keep us humble. She might return us to a gentler sense of proportion when we’ve unwittingly become inflated with self-importance. (I’m reluctantly looking at the possibility that my self-denigration is yet another unwitting form of too much attention to self.) Not Good Enough might remind us of our place in the larger, more beautiful world and spiritual dance to which we belong, in which we wish to participate and contribute to. She might even gently mother us when we fail. What might that be like?
What if Not Good Enough were seen as a kind of inward balancing force. If befriended, might the gray, heavy-handed, finger-pointing hag offer useful and mediating energy? When I’ve slipped into taking myself too seriously … When high expectations become impossible perfectionistic demands, maybe I can shift from admonishing, fault-finding, scowling, and glowering. Maybe the Sprite will invite me to a more playful and generous way of being. In her contrasting translucence and light, she could hover over my manuscript smiling, waving, beckoning. She might point to what’s been accomplished, what’s gone well.
She might clap!
10 thoughts on “Not Good Enough”
Your words are such beautiful words of truth, that we all have inside us. Sarah Blondin says “The Gift of suffering, is that it offers us the opportunity to awaken our deeper natures of love and compassion. And if I could muster the courage to turn toward that pain, asked it what hurt and wash it with loving words that it would lead me through my darkness to my light within.” Your brilliant light is hidden under that biblical bushel basket? Would love to see you ask that laughing “light”hearted sprite, to remove that bushel basket so all the light positives within you would rush out and flood you with positive loving feelings. You deserve this. It’s time!! (How much time do we have left?) Gosh I guess I need to apply this to myself as well??:)
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Thanks so much for such kind and inspiring words of encouragement!
Wonderful post: so inspiring, affirming and helpful. Will continue to reread so that hopefully I can more successfully internalize. ❤️💕
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Thanks so much for continuing to read and respond to my posts!
Dear Joan, Your blog impressed and moved me to read it aloud to Phillipp. It inspired him to respond to you on the theme. Below you’ll find his response.O Meanwhile I will write you a separate email, so glad to be back in touch with you! Love, K
“Not Good Enough!” (Inspired by Joan Heiman’s personal witch whispering)
Leonard Bernstein thought he wasn’t good enough because he never achieve anything great like the Austrian composer Gustav Mahler. In his will he stipulated to have the score of Mahler‘s fifth symphony placed on his chest. To the outsider it doesn’t make sense; one of the most successful composers and conductors and music educators of the 20th century feeling inadequate, not good enough.
Similarly Ivan Turgenev the most published Russian author of the 19th century and trailblazer of Russian literature felt he wasn’t good enough because he never created a memorable character as Unforgettable as Goncharov crafted in the novel Oblomov.
It’s not uncommon to feel inadequate in a relationship. I feel I was not as good a father as I could’ve been. I could’ve been more understanding, more engaged, more patient, more nurturing. As I looked at other dads, like Mr. Murphy, who was always there for all of his kids school activities, I felt inadequate. But I am at peace with myself. I am imperfect. I am not good enough, for sure. But I am good enough to be loved by the most wonderful person in the world. On top of that I feel God loves me, I have prayed to him many times and he heard me and helped me. He knows my imperfections, my faults but he hears my plaints and complaints, he smiles and tells me to go on and not give in to self-pity and doubt.
On a lighter note now that I’m 75, I have lowered the bar on my personal expectations. Dickens and I have nothing in common anymore. No more great expectations. My current state I call new-found-minimalism. I am happy that I do anything at all. If I get out of bed and do some exercises, get dressed and make breakfast, I feel like I wrote a Chekhov short story, or the very least have written the first chapter of a new novel about exciting old people.
The important thing I’ve come to realize is you’ve got to lower the bar of expectations so that you can be kind to yourself. If you are standing in front of a flight of stairs and an elevator, you take the elevator. You don’t beat up on yourself becaus because you didn’t take the healthier option. That you should’ve done 50 years ago. Now you go with the flow. Do whatever keeps you moving; keep it simple; enjoy the elevator ride. A Footnote: Joan, I continue to admire your writing style, the natural, unforced flow of it. And in the spirit of the blog, you are a better writer than I am, but that doesn’t mean that I cancel my gift out—I feel blessed that I love to write! And I love to read your writing. You are without a doubt the best letterwriter I know. Your style is a throwback to the 19th century, when people Wrote thousands of letters, so I would say you are a historical experience, a metamorphosis of beauty and grace crafted with paper and pen. Love, Phillipp
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Thank you for this thoughtful and insightful response! I will continue to work to remember this. And thank you, as well, for your encouraging words about my writing! I imagine you know how much they mean to me.
Teaching in public schools and especially specially education these last few years we tell a majority of kids, there not good enough. Oh, how we lost the creative ones. I always thinking of Don Mclean’s Vincent song, they weren’t listening, they didn’t know how
Peace train save this country. (Yusuf Islam)
“This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.”
Yes!!! 👏👏👏 I believe that the voices (or different parts of us) want only to be seen, acknowledged and appreciated for the ‘work’ they do. And included at the dinner table. The more we reject them, the stronger and more demanding they become. What a beautiful little story you’ve put together here, it makes me smile 🤗💕
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Thanks so much for reading and responding to this post. Let’s keep talking about this and encouraging one another to welcome our dark and orphaned parts.