Overcoming the Fear of Not Being Good Enough
I was terrified to start my own business. And even now -- now that I’ve made the leap and I’m in it, for better or for worse -- I’m still scared for at least a little bit, every day. I’ll have moments (or hours or days) when I believe that I’m not smart enough, not productive enough, not talented enough to make this work. I’ll be certain that I’m not competent enough to build a business and be a success, no matter how much I want it -- and no matter how much I may have already proven otherwise. There are days I’m convinced that any success I’ve had thus far has been a fluke -- a careful combination of luck and timing. So, even I grapple with feelings that I am just not good enough. How about you?
Not every day is like this, of course. There are days when I feel more confident, when I believe in my own ability; but it can be hard to remember those moments of positivity when I’m mired in feelings of self-doubt, when I feel like an impostor, or when I’m sure I won’t ever quite measure up to the sky-high success of the other women entrepreneurs I watch and admire.
My friends are often surprised to hear this, just as I’m surprised to hear of their own insecurities. The women in my life are incredibly smart, hard-working, and talented. And I’m not just saying that because they’re my friends (although, of course, these are many of the reasons I want them in my life to begin with!). I’m saying this because I truly believe in their abilities and their value -- I see it and I hear it and I feel it every time I talk to them. So, it’s surprising to hear that they don’t always feel the same. But then again, neither do I.
“I feel a lot of pressure to always be the best I can be at everything -- the best wife, daughter, friend, colleague, role model, confidant, bridesmaid, bride, dog mommy, etc. You name it, I have tried to be the best at it,” says Shannon Shapiro, a 25-year old product marketing manager from Westlake Village, California. “I WANT to be all of these things to everyone, but the truth is, it isn't humanly possible to be everything to everyone. No matter how badly you want it.”
Emily Greener, co-founder and CEO of I Am That Girl, adds: “We’re running around every day and we look in the mirror, but we don’t really see ourselves. All of us are starving to be seen, to be heard, to belong.”
Study after study confirms that this desire to be everything to everyone and the subsequent fear of not being “good enough” is pervasive, especially among women. And I’ve personally seen it manifesting itself not only in our professional lives, but in our personal lives as well. There’s no denying that it’s detrimental to our personal and professional progress, to our relationships, and most importantly, to our love for and confidence in ourselves.
Why aren’t I good enough?
There are, of course, a lot of varying factors that contribute to not feeling good enough, including the usual suspects: the unrealistic portrayal of women in fashion and media; the seemingly constant murmurs to be the best wife/mother/boardroom executive you can be; and, of course, Beyoncé.
If we recognize and pay attention to the source of our self-doubt, there’s a greater likelihood that we’ll be conscious of it and able to work through it once it starts to creep in. So it’s important to note that two of the biggest proponents of low self-worth require a little more self-reflection: constant comparison of ourselves to other women (particularly on social media platforms) and the insane amount of pressure we put on ourselves to do, be, and have it all.
“We’re an obsessive, icon-type of culture, so we want to be like other people,” said Emily. And I’d agree.
As a society, we’ve identified invisible markers of success: do you have a booming career and a nice house? Are you married? Are you healthy and conventionally fit? More often than not, we compare ourselves to those we feel have already reached these “accomplishments” -- even if their actual reality may be different than what we perceive or if our personal definition of success isn't on par with someone else's.
As a society, we’ve identified invisible markers of success. More often than not, we compare ourselves to those we feel have already reached these “accomplishments.”
"I think social media plays a huge factor in making women feel like they must be absolutely perfect all of the time. It's so much easier to compare yourself to others’ seemingly perfect lives and get sucked into a rabbit hole of comparison, self-doubt, and shame,” says Nailah Blades, the 30-year old co-founder of social media marketing agency, Donna and Nailah.
Alishan Hopping, a 32-year old healthcare recruiter from Atlanta, agrees: “The Internet brings on a lot of this pressure because there's a constant barrage of someone doing more. Someone being better. Someone giving more. It's exhausting.”
When I find myself in comparison mode (one quick scroll through Instagram oughta do the trick!), I try to weigh my perception with the likely reality. And I remind myself that someone else’s definition of accomplishment doesn’t necessarily have to be mine. I’m always seeking to understand what “success” means on my own terms and remember to view my own life through that lens.
Remember, own your definition of success, not someone else's.
Though feelings of low self-worth can be traced to external sources, the pressure to be perfect often comes from within.
In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, writer and research professor, Brene Brown, says: “Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect.”
And I think most of us, inherently, know that. So why the constant quest for it? If we understand that perfectionism is not a reality, why do we pressure ourselves to achieve it? To attain the unattainable?
“We, as women, put the pressure on ourselves because we know what we're capable of and we want to make sure that we step up to our own expectations of that,” said Stephanie Guerami, a 29-year old associate director of marketing living in New York. “It's a matter of changing our own minds about the fact that it's OK to not have everything together 100% of the time.”
There’s value in setting high expectations, of course -- and in pushing yourself to pursue goals and accomplishments outside of your comfort zone. But I try to remember that striving for something -- moving past the fear of “not having it all together” and going after what I want anyway (as I’ve done with my business) -- is its own version of success too, whether I fail or not.
How do I overcome the fear of not being good enough?
So, what then? How do we move past this fear? We can’t just forever avoid the siren song of Us Weekly and Instagram (well, I certainly can’t; maybe you possess some sort of superhuman time-wasting-activity willpower). Once we recognize our feelings of inadequacy and we’ve pinpointed the source of our insecurity, how do we push forward?
The struggle is undoubtedly real. But I think we can change that.
Be honest and encouraging
If we were all a little bit more transparent about our lives, about our fears, about where we feel we’re falling short -- we might better understand that we all struggle with this; we’re all in this together.
I’m not saying you have to (or should) take to the Internet to air your deepest insecurities, but you can at least be open and honest with the people that you trust. We all have people in our lives who know us well -- those who can often see us better than we can see ourselves. Turn to them for perspective when you’re least able to see it.
Donna Queza, a 30-year old co-founder of social media marketing agency, Donna and Nailah, shares: “I’ve worked really hard as I get older to surround myself with smart, honest people. It’s not about comparisons and one-upmanship; it’s really about finding people who support you and make you a better version of yourself.”
“[At I Am That Girl], our special sauce is being vulnerable and sharing honestly where we don’t think we’re good enough,” said Emily. “When one person is brave enough to do that, everyone feels permission to do the same. All of a sudden, you have a room full of people comfortable being who they are."
When you find yourself comparing your behind-the-scenes to the perfectly-filtered highlight reel of someone else’s life, remember that every one of us has our own “behind-the-scenes”: private struggles and missteps and insecurities.
When I have these kinds of conversations with my friends, I’m reminded that my people -- and most women -- suffer from the same insecurities I do. And the more I lift them up, the better I feel and the easier it is for each of us to recognize our own positive qualities.
Remember that having it all together is unrealistic (for ALL OF US)
When you find yourself comparing your behind-the-scenes to the perfectly-filtered highlight reel of someone else’s life, remember that every one of us has our own “behind-the-scenes”: private struggles and missteps and insecurities. It’s very rare that we post these for the world to see.
Stephanie Siefert, a 29-year old marketing coordinator and mother of two, acknowledges this: “I think it's important to realize that everyone feels like they are not good enough in some aspect of their life.”
When I start to see other people (particularly the women I admire the most) for who they really are -- beautiful, imperfect human beings, just like me -- and not who I perceive them to be, I’m less likely to compare myself to them in a way that detracts from the reality of who I am and my value to the world (or theirs!).
Focus on what you do right
“No one is perfect and instead of pretending we are, we should be acknowledging the strengths we do have and focusing on the positive,” Stephanie Siefert adds.
For every misstep you’ve made, for every opportunity you've missed, for everything you wish you’d said, remember: you’ve done so much more right. When we are bogged down by where we fall short, we’re blind to everything we do have going for us. Every moment when we make the right move or say the right thing, we DO have moments when we are good enough. More than good enough.
We need to give more credence to those moments. Write them down and return to them when you need to. Be proud of yourself. You are far wiser than the mistakes you’ve made. You are far better than the moments you wish you could do differently. You are worth more -- inside and out -- than you give yourself credit for. All of us are.
You are good enough.