It's been 25 years since that award that made me realize that writing could be more than "just a hobby." Working in any kind of art, frequent criticism and rejection are a way of life. For several years, I kept rejection letters for story and poem submissions in a folder like they were some rite of passage. But lately I've been thinking a lot about rejection and three words that have extended their reach into almost every facet of my life: "not good enough."
In the 25 years since that contest, I've finished two degrees, have published many articles, and have over a decade of teaching experience. But no matter what milestones I accomplish, there is still a voice that says to me, who do you think you are? You're not good enough to enter that writing contest? You're just an imposter, and those others will see right through your bullshit. Give up, go back to waitressing.
Anne Lamott said "We're all afraid of the same stuff. Mostly we're afraid that we're secretly not okay, that we're disgusting, or frauds, or about to be diagnosed with cancer." And more ... “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor ... It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.”
My own fears of inadequacy - and that inner voice that says I'm "not good enough" - span to include almost every facet of my life. I've told myself I am not good enough, whether it is as a writer, a photographer, an employee, a lover, a wife, a mother, a woman, or teacher.
So how do we obliterate these three awful words, "Not good enough?"
- Show up. No matter what those inner critics in your head say, show up. Keep writing/shooting photos/knitting/racing half marathons or whatever it is that you love. Because when we do what we love, our passion shines through. We gain confidence with practice. Malcolm Gladwell said in Outliers that the way to achieving expertise in any skill is to practice it for 10,000 hours. You can't practice if you don't show up.
- Be vulnerable. Be real. Getting real about our inner critic and fears of inadequacy is difficult, but there's no better way to squash the inner critic demon than to say its name. Part of that inner critic is shame. But when you confront that shame - and better yet, share it with another person - its effect on us lessens. Brene Brown said in Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead: “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can't survive.”
- Own it. The hard part of being real is owning our imperfections. We are taught from a young age to be the best, make the grade, don't make mistakes and above all make sure you compare your successes to others. With age and experience, I've learned to admit my mistakes and imperfections because it lessens their grasp on me. Sometimes owning our emotions can be really difficult. Owning it to others even more so. But acknowledgement of imperfections is the first step toward growth.
- Celebrate what's unique about you. Walt Disney was originally fired from his job at the Kansas City Star because he "lacked imagination." James Joyce, Irish-born writer and poet, flew in the face of conventional writing styles when he published A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in 1916 in a modernist, stream-of-consciousness style of writing. Find those anomalies about yourself and celebrate them. They are what make your consciousness and perceptions of the world uniquely yours.
If you have additional thoughts or ideas about ways we grapple with inadequacy, you can share them in the comments section or write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org