What causes us to think we are not enough?
It is a battle I contend with almost daily. And, as much as I would love to have someone to blame, it is hard to direct that kind of self-worth issue toward anyone other myself.
Today was another day in the life of Amy, the woman who is determined and ambitious one moment and struggling to keep from an anxiety attack the next. Why do I even share this with you? Because, I promised to be honest. No good comes from sugar coating my experiences. What good can I be to anyone if I cannot be honest in what I share. The good news is that I know the answers to many of my questions. Ironically, sometimes knowing the truth is not enough to break through the stubbornness that is me.
I am always striving. Striving to be what I’m not, striving to situate the future, and striving to be better. Amazingly enough, all of this striving has propelled me into a world where I feel I have to strive to survive. It has become part of who I am; a behavior I have struggled to unlearn, even when it is toxic to my well being. What do I mean by this? Well, let’s go back.
At 20 years old, I was anxious to get married and start my life. That is how I saw it, anyway. Instead of just enjoying the ride of my young life, traveling, hanging out with my friends, or just plugging along at a normal pace, I set my life into overdrive. I went to school full time and worked on dual degrees, with a minor, three years straight through (full load every semester). I took the maximum number of classes, waitressed at a local restaurant, and worked to build my resume through practicums.
Throughout my 20’s, and most of my marriage, I work myself to death. Some on my own and some as a direct result of being married to a controlling husband. You can read, or hear, that story in a number of places so I won’t get into it here. The point is, in addition to the expectations he placed on me, I aimed high to achieve my own goals. I worked for the chance to own a house, have a car, and be a stay-home mom. I put him through graduate school so that when he was done, I could quit and raise a family. I never intended to be a career woman.
Yet, at 28, I left teaching to pursue a law degree. I was looking for an “out” from teaching. I was tired and burnt out. Looking back, I believe some of that was immaturity and the stress of home that made it so much more difficult than it had to be, but that was where I was at the time. I would not have chosen law. My husband encouraged it and it seemed like a good fit, so that is what I did.
At 30, the abuse in my marriage escalated to the point where I could no longer stay, and I sought help. Ultimately, I left. Leaving an abusive marriage, and getting divorced in the middle of law school, definitely left it’s mark. I fell from near the top of my class to the bottom and struggled to just get through.
I managed to graduate, but I did not sit for the bar exam. I did not have the emotional fortitude, or the money, to take the prep classes or the test. I needed a job and I needed stability.
My determination (it definitely was not my GPA), and hard work, landed me a job as a federal agent for the US Government. This job brought me financial stability, health insurance, and prestige. I had proven to my husband – and myself – that I was something. I WAS someone. I had excelled and “made it” in life. Out of thousands of applicants, I made the cut and took an oath to protect and serve our United States Constitution.
And, once the flashiness wore off, I was miserable.
Why? Because I was not fulfilled. So, after much consideration, and 6 years of service, I left. I left to do something that brought me purpose, healing, and fulfillment. I threw caution to the wind, trusted my abilities, and chose to live my life with purpose. I left to start a nonprofit. I chose to give, to support those hurting, and to educate others on domestic violence. My motto became “Be the Change!”
Which brings us to today. I am 41 years old and in a much different place than I ever thought I would be. I do not own a home, I rent a small cottage. I do not have children, as I have always planned, because life just did not work out that way.
I came back to teaching because nonprofits (particularly new ones) do not pay the bills. I teach children in China how to speak English. While you are sleeping, I am conversing with 4 and 5 year old children about play time and bugs. It is exhausting, but I enjoy it and it gives me the income and freedom I need to continue working toward my dreams.
I have no employee benefits, no paid vacation, and no retirement account. I owe more money for law school loans than I can ever pay off in a lifetime.
But, do you know what? For the first time in my adult life, I am happy. I am myself, pretty much doing what I want to do.
I am happy! I don’t care if I don’t have tons of money (except for those pesky law school loans…those I could do without) or that I live in 850 square feet with my boyfriend and our three cats. I don’t care that I’m not a sought after attorney or that I turned in my badge in exchange for helping others instead of arresting them. None of that matters.
So, why do I often find myself believing that I am not enough?
Sadly, I often – make that almost always – am striving to be more. I get upset that the nonprofit isn’t “successful,” so I book more meetings, phone calls, speaking engagements, and events. I get frustrated that people don’t like my posts about domestic violence, or rush to support and follow me in my endeavors, so I spend hours chatting with people, trying to network, and working to build connections. I work myself ragged to be a full-time, engaging teacher on the midnight shift, an author, a podcast host, a connected individual (social media is down-right demanding and I don’t have time for the in person stuff!), and an executive director of a new nonprofit.
And then I crash, I burn, and I feel like an utter failure. And to what end? What drives us to believe that we have to do better, be more, or succeed more? Who created the bar that we are supposed to strive for? We did. I am directly responsible for putting this pressure on myself. I have an entire history of trying to be more than I am. And in doing so, I’ve missed out on simply enjoying where I am at that very moment.
Thankfully, I have a wealth of people around me that can see my world much clearer than I can. And, they have been patient with me, encouraged me, and shared some much needed truths with me.
I am enough. No one can be everything and that includes me. My life right now is as it is. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with where it is. I can chose to fight it, wishing for more, striving to be what I think I should be, or I can accept where I am and enjoy the ride.
Maybe I will not live up to the standards of the “successful,” or be the best up and coming nonprofit or author this year, but those who need to read my writing, will. Perhaps no one will listen to my podcast, but I have grown tenfold by doing the interviews. It’s possible that only a select few will ever know what Forget Me Not Advocacy Group is, but we have reached many and will continue to meet and support even more over the years.
Being enough is a figment of my imagination and there are other things my imagination can spend time on (like planting a garden and making foam props for my little students).
We create our own prison of doubt and expectations. It’s time to break free. Here I go…