Joe is what you call an average man. If you passed him on the street, you’d probably not even notice him. Joe works an ordinary job, drives a 10-year-old car, and makes just enough to pay the monthly bills. Every year he takes his wife and three sons on a two-week holiday. Nothing fancy, just a road trip to a campsite. It ain’t much, but the family enjoys themselves and the time together, and that’s good enough.
There’re many things on the family’s bucket list, and it’s safe to say that it’s unrealistic that they’ll ever reach the bottom of the list. As a matter of fact, the list merely functions as a guide for daydreaming. Still, Joe does his best to provide for his family, and his wife and kids appreciate him for it.
Now meet Eric.
Eric is an entirely different creature. He’s relentlessly ambitious, strives for the biggest and best things on the planet, and achieves them with ease. As the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, he’s a made man that most men look up to. Eric doesn’t do campsites, he goes large. It’s balls to the walls every weekend, with the most expensive champagne, best clubs, and hottest exotic dancers, and people admire him wherever he goes.
If you look at the stats, Eric’s life trumps Joe’s life tenfold. But don’t be fooled. As simple a life Joe has, he’s completely fine with it, feels appreciated, and can’t help but smile when he looks at himself in the mirror. Joe knows who he is, and that’s good enough for him.
Eric, on the other hand, struggles daily with who he is and how he can become even more.
He’s longing for becoming bigger and better aren’t fueled by an intrinsic trigger to become a better version of himself. It’s all driven by an unhealthy drive to prove himself.
Eric doesn’t need to worry about money, yet it’s all he thinks about. It’s his measure for feeling significant, but he’s chasing a ghost. Every time he reaches the number that makes him feel significant, the figure rises, leaving Eric feeling worthless again.
What determines what’s good enough?
What the above story about Joe and Eric should illustrate is that in terms of feeling good enough, Joe is doing fine, and Eric is fucked, no matter what. What it also shows is that money and social status have very little to do with a sense of feeling good enough. But, how come Eric never seems to reach the balanced self-esteem average Joe has?
Because Eric’s sense of self-esteem comes from external factors, he’s at the mercy of what others think of him. He’s still the seven-year-old boy that does a trick and says, “Look, mom! Look what I can do, aren’t I great?”. But even back then, mom didn’t give a shit.
As successful as Eric is, he’s still trying to prove to his parents that he’s good enough. But, no matter how hard he waves his success in front of their eyes, he doesn’t get the reaction he so desperately needs. With everything he does, he still hopes his dad will show up to tell him he’s proud of him. But, he never will, since this shit is in the past and, well, dad’s six feet under.
And now, as an adult, this experience from his childhood haunts him in his everyday life. With everything he does, he looks to the world to find validation.
The world is Eric’s mirror. But, the mirror is a lie. In most cases, the mirror doesn’t care what Eric does, and even if it did, Eric twists and turns the reflection it gives him. It’s garbage in garbage out. Merely because the lens through which Eric looks in the mirror is dirty.
Everything we experience goes through a complex system of filters, conditioning, and presumptions before it enters our brain. What this means is that the way you experience the world is specific to you, or as Albert Einstein once said: “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
For Eric, this means that no matter what he sees of himself, it’s always ugly. It also means that when he compares himself to someone else, and he does that a lot, he always comes up short. Eric has created a very complex system that degrades everything he does and elevates anything someone else does. A little goodbye gift he got from his loving parents.
What’s the cost of not feeling good enough?
When Joe keeps coming up short to provide for his family, he might feel unworthy. But with a healthy level of self-esteem, it merely functions as a trigger to do better. Joe knows intrinsically that he’s good enough, and that’s good enough. He gets that there’s room for improvement, but his potential self doesn’t negate his current self.
Then there’s Eric; a slave to things he has no control over. He lives in a state of constant pursuit: If only he reaches goal X, then he’ll be good enough. He continually keeps comparing himself with others, focusing on what he sees on the surface: the overnight success, the Instagram filtered lifestyle.
Eric lives a life of absurd highs and devastating lows, all because his validation of feeling good enough is based on factors that are unhealthy at their core. He tries to be perfect and expects too much of himself because he feels as if he is anything less than perfect, the world won’t accept him.
But the chase for perfection is exhausting, and it’s taking its toll. Eric is both mentally and physically drained. One moment he’s on top of the world, only to crash down harder than ever in a blink of an eye.
The scale can tip the other way as well. You only act when everything is perfect, but it never is. There you are with a million ideas and concepts, that never see the day of light. And so you blame time, your gear, the alignment of the planets.
But, it doesn’t matter, at the end of the day you didn’t start. You just sit there, completely lost and beat down by this thing called life. Instead of constantly proving yourself, you just settle for the fact that you’re not good enough and stop trying altogether.
After all, what’s the point? Maybe you’ve been rejected one too many times in your life and just don’t see the point in moving on. You stop dead in your tracks in fear of rejection. You’ve found that, if you want to escape the constant criticism and rejection, you simply have to stop trying.
At the end of the day, whether you’re an overachiever or you’ve stopped trying, there’s one thing that’s certain: There’s a flaw to you, and it’s bigger than you dare to admit. That flaw is a good thing.
We are all flawed people
We chase perfectionism to be successful, appreciated, and loved. We also chase perfectionism to avoid criticism. After all, when something is perfect, there’s not much to be said.
But, perfect is a weird concept. What is it anyway? One school of thought claims that perfection is not when there’s nothing more to add, but nothing more to take away. Another approach is that it doesn’t contain a single error. There’s also the thing of perception. Alas, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, so what’s perfect in one person’s eyes might be utterly rubbish in someone else’s.
If perfection is your goal in life, then once again, you’re fucked. But, how would that change if the imperfection of life is true perfection?
Enter wabi sabi.
The Japanese concept of wabi sabi is a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. It’s the crack in the vase, the odd bending of wood, the asymmetry in someone’s face, that gives something its real beauty.
Wabi sabi embraces the natural process of creation and appreciates the flaws that are born along the way. If you work from the concept of wabi sabi, you don’t try to mask the error you created, you let it be. You embrace the fact that making mistakes is part of life, and if you look at it the right way, mistakes are what make life beautiful.
In the same way that wabi sabi applies to the things we create, it applies to us as well. We are fundamentally flawed people, nowhere near perfect, whatever the hell that means. But, it’s those flaws that make life interesting, that give people some depth, some resonance to their character. Why would you want to be perfect, when you can be your weird and strange true self? Why would you try to kill your shadow side, the dark thoughts you have, that inspire you to be creative and do new things? If perfection was even a thing, why would you want that?
When good enough is enough for you
What it comes down to is that you have to decide who you are and if that’s enough for you. You have to decide that you are at peace with yourself. The potential self is something worth striving for, but only if you accept, honor, and acknowledge your current self.
And that’s exactly where the difference lies between Joe and Eric: Joe is perfectly fine with who he is in the now. Although he knows there’s plenty of room to grow, and he’s far from perfect, Joe accepts who he is with love and appreciation.
Eric, on the other hand, doesn’t even realize he has a current self. He stopped looking at it a long time ago because every time he looked, he was disgusted by what he saw. And so he started running. Running towards his potential self, without ever looking at who he is in the moment.
Even though Eric’s life in the now has always been more than most people dream off, he never experienced it. In fact, the constant pursuit of his future self killed the experience of the now. He had it all: the beautiful wife, the kids, the car, the friends, the money, you name it, Eric had it. But he lost it all. All because he never stopped running towards the future, instead of appreciating the now.
What would happen if you would accept your flaws as the thing that makes you whole? That your flaws are what give you color, character, and personality. What if that one thing that you despise in yourself makes you appealing to the rest of us?
From the perspective of a flower, an expensive Ming vase serves the exact same purpose as a beat-up vase. Just as your current self can do the same as your potential self. While the potential self is worth a journey of a lifetime, it’s the current self that genuinely matters. It’s the current self that’s always with you and transforms in search of its potential. It’s the current self that represents who you are.
Your chase for perfection is merely that: a chase. By all means, keep chasing, but don’t mistake the destination for the journey. Your value does not decrease based upon someone’s inability to see your worth.
So ask yourself; What if you are already enough?
Photo credit: Tony Hernandez