Are you enough?
This can be one of the most painful questions we ask ourselves. And it can also, if we get curious and interrogate it, lead to incredible growth and transformations.
I want to share a story: Valentine’s Day used to trigger old feelings of not-enoughness in both me and Eric. I’d want Eric to get me a present that would make me feel seen, and he’d want me to appreciate the present he had gotten me, and neither of us did either the giving or the appreciating well enough. We’d find ourselves in an old place of insecurity that played into patterns from our childhoods.
Over time, though, both of us came to understand better what was going on, and we were able to shift those patterns. As in so many ways in our almost-30 year relationship, the places of tension have also been areas of great growth.
(for the fun of it, here are two photos of us, taken in 1993 and 2022)
Thinking back on that old tension, I realized that it was similar to one I’ve seen countless people struggle with in their writing lives. Our writing, like our relationships, can call up a deep desire to be seen and also a simultaneous worry that what we do is never enough. We live in a culture of not enough-ness, so it’s no wonder that we’ve internalized the message.
But we don’t need to be stuck with those old messages. We don’t need to perpetuate them.
Today, I want to take a moment to celebrate you! No matter the kind of relationship we’re in, each of us needs to feel that we, in ourselves, are enough.
So I want to say this to you: You Are Enough.
Take a moment and drop out of your head and into your heart. How do those words feel?
For a long time, those words felt uncomfortable to me, and on some days, they can still feel uncomfortable. But I take this sentence as a deep spiritual practice and also as a profound and radical social belief.
We live in a culture of hierarchy and distortions of power, and that system is perpetuated by the ways in which we internalize it, doubt ourselves, and, as a result, then cut ourselves off from true connection.
We can be going along just fine, and then we come to a difficult spot in our intimate relationship or in our writing, and old feelings of insufficiency arise. I’ve coached and taught award-winning writers, therapists, yoga teachers, $1,000,000 business owners, filmmakers, professors, and mindfulness teachers, and all of them have needed, while pursuing their writing, to contend at times with the question: Am I enough?
When we get to this question, instead of being stopped by it, we can get curious and go a little deeper. I’ve now had more than fifteen years of experience helping people deconstruct old feelings of insufficiency. I’ve seen again and again that doing this inner work is difficult, but ultimately incredibly liberating and empowering. If we don’t embrace our own enoughness (and this is ongoing work!), we can’t be our fullest selves, love unconditionally, step into our fullest voice, or do the writing we were meant to do.
I want to share my story of how I came to shift my own relationship with the question, Are You Enough?
Are You Enough? My Story
(First published in Tiny Buddha by Nadia Colburn )
When I was a child, I wrote for my own pleasure and sometimes I wrote poems or stories or notes as presents to people I loved.
I’d sit quietly and think of what I wanted to say. Then I’d try to turn that into musical language. I’d write those words on the page, and then I’d draw a picture to go with it.
It didn’t occur to me even to ask whether anyone would like my writing or not; it was just an offering, a gift.
Then I got older. I stopped giving my writing to people as gifts. I stopped writing, except occasionally in my journal.
I didn’t write creatively again until I was in college, and then I began to wonder whether my writing was “good.” Were my poems “good enough” to get me into the advanced poetry workshop? Would they dazzle the teacher? Would the other students like them?
I paid more attention to the way the words sounded on the page than to what I actually was saying. The depth was covered up by surface. But, to be honest, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to bring my depth to the surface for other people in my class to see, and so I stopped writing.
I didn’t write creatively very much again until I was pregnant with my first child. Then what was inside me—literally—was calling my attention. I turned again to the page.
But there was still this concern about whether what I was creating was “good enough.” By then I was in a PhD program in literature, and we were all trying to be really “good” at all the intellectual work we were doing.
I’d been dancing with that “good enough” question for many years.
I see now clearly that that question of goodness or enoughness isn’t just about my writing, but about myself—about my own interior life, and about the relationship between that interior and my external: Can my depth come out on the surface? Is my surface appropriate for my depth? Will I be seen, appreciated, understood? And how can I develop myself to the best of my potential, showing up and not shying away from who I am and want to be? Am I good enough?
Now, many years later, I’m a creative writer and a creative writing teacher, and I see my students similarly worry about whether their work is “good enough.”
I often tell them that their concern about whether they are good enough, that comes out in relation to their writing, is really a deeper question about how they approach themselves in their whole lives. They are really asking, “Am I Good Enough” and this is a painful question to ask, but ultimately an important one to work out.
I tell my students that writing brings out these insecurities, uncertainties, and learned patterns of thinking about ourselves that otherwise would lie buried. But that the writing doesn’t create those insecurities, uncertainties, or learned patterns. They’re there within us—and all around us.
From the time we’re little, we’re given messages about what it means to be a worthwhile person: people are expected to act a certain way, to look a certain way, to speak a certain way.
For women, our bodies often bear the brunt of these expectations about our physical selves: are our bodies “good” enough, thin enough, pretty enough, light enough, curvy enough, straight enough…
And for women and men, our writing often comes to be the place where our intellect is valued: our writing is judged in schools; our expression is given grades. We measure ourselves against others.
In almost every way, we are indoctrinated into a hierarchical worldview where some people are considered “better” than others. No matter that much of this hierarchy has very little if anything at all with the quality of the person—how kind, talented, helpful they are to society, but instead have much more to do with what they were born into: their family position, the color of their skin, gender, nationality, wealth and opportunities they have been afforded from birth. But because this question of enoughness is so powerful, it gets internalized.
We spend our time in self doubt instead of in love and acceptance. And we trick ourselves into thinking this judgment makes us “better,” when, in fact, it keeps us stuck in someone else’s patterns.
And if we’re always being judged—in body and mind—there is no space to be and to become who we really want to and are meant to be–or, for that matter, to be the agents of change that we might otherwise be.
Are You Enough? Changing the Paradigm.
The question of whether we are “good enough” comes from feeling judged, and this restricts us. We experience ourselves as lacking, and a sense of lack leads in turn to our not being able to inhabit our full selves, to our making poor decisions, and to living in constricted ways.
So what happens when we put aside our judgment and allow ourselves to be with ourselves and with our creative voices?
What helped me overcome my worry own question of “Am I Good Enough” (or mostly overcome it) was being a mother and seeing what it’s like to love my children unconditionally.
When I’m with my children, it never occurs to me to ask whether they are “good” or “good enough.” Those questions seem absurd and meaningless.
I know that my children were born, as I believe all children are, as wonderful light-beings, miracles with unimaginable potential and unique personalities and gifts. They are, like all people, uniquely themselves.
I also know that my children were born with the capacity to grow in countless ways. And this potential to grow and learn never stops.
Sometimes we worry that if we believe that we are already good enough, we’ll stop growing, learning, stretching. But quite the opposite. It’s only when we really accept who we are that we’re able to do our biggest most exciting growth.
My children are “good” but that does not mean that they were born good at walking. They needed to learn, as we all do, how to walk. They needed to crawl and then learn how to pull themselves up, needed to learn how to take one step and fall down and then another. Some children who are born with disabilities never learn to do these things. But that does not mean that they are not “good enough.”
We all have our own path of growth, our own path of discovery. And on this path, we learned how to be more self-aware, how to say they are sorry, how to think about how our actions impact others. We learn what we love and we cultivate our gifts. We all have room for growth-throughout our lives. We all have room for greater awareness and more skill. But as we mature and grow as people, our essential “goodness” does not change.
I try to take the same attitude towards our creative acts: we can learn how to be more skillful writers while still coming to love our creative voices just as they are in this moment. This is not a contradiction, but the beautiful synergy that comes with presence and acceptance. We can focus at the same time process and craft, on being and on becoming.
As a poet and writer, I needed to learn the skills to take my inner world and put it more effectively on paper. I learned from reading others and from having others read and comment on my poems.
As I wrote more, my writing got more understandable, more moving, more skillful. But it was only when I really let go of the idea of wanting to please others that I began to write my most powerful work — at least the work that I myself am most pleased with. I tapped into all my years of practice and I also gave myself complete freedom to do what I want: both went hand in hand.
I don’t think we are ever asking the right question when we ask “Are you enough” or is our work “good enough.” Because that’s the wrong question to ask about life and about the creative processes themselves. We’re not guilty people in a court of law being judged; we’re not born waiting to be absolved of any original sin. This might sound hyperbolic, but it’s not. Most of us have been brought up in a culture of insufficiency, a culture of
Similarly, as a teacher, I can help my students have more skills. I can show them writing that inspires them and that they can learn from; I can give them tools to use in their pieces. But it’s never my job to judge them or to suggest that their creative expression isn’t worthy. Rather it’s my job to give them the tools they need to be as big and bold and free and original as possible — to break the rules and create their own.
We are all creative beings. Not everyone is given legs to walk, but everyone is given a unique story and a unique perspective and a unique voice. And who are we, any of us, to say that one story is “good enough” and another is not? Would we ever say that one birdsong is worthy and another is not?
When I write, I don’t set myself up waiting breathlessly to be “liked” or not. Some people will like what I write. Some will not. What is important is that I set myself up to do, at any moment, the best I can do then and to accompany myself, whether I fall down or walk across the room.
When my children were little, I delighted in the freedom with which they played, danced, drew, sang. I want them to be able to be themselves as fully as adults, and to love themselves in the process.
And I want that for all of us, even for myself. For I know that if I want something for my children, then I need to be able to at least try to model it, otherwise what message am I really sending?
I tell my students: you might not write your most captivating poem this time around, but if you cut off your breath, then you never will write at your full potential. So take a risk: go for it, and keep trying. Read, write, learn from what you love and engage fully. Keep listening inside and allowing the process to move from the inner to the outer without judgment.
One of my favorite quotes is from Martha Graham, the wonderful modern dancer and choreographer. She says:
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. …There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”—Martha Graham
I started writing as a gift to the people I loved when I was a child, but now I write as a gift to myself—and to the world.
For me, creative writing is an act of attention, and presence and love. When I show up fully and listen, then I can create a passage from what is larger than me through my interior self and then out onto the page.
“ Absolute attention is an act of generosity, “ the philosopher Simone Weil wrote. When I pay attention to the world around and within me and to the language that I use, that is an act of generosity and grace-to myself and to the world and perhaps, also, I can hope, to some of my readers.
This is a deep spiritual practice and also, I believe, a radical social act.
What about you? how do you interact with the voice that asks “Are You Enough”? How do you answer back?
Take another moment here, as I ask you this question:
Are You Enough?
How does the question land in your body? Can you feel, from the inside out, a YES in response? I invite you to feel, really feel, that right now, in this very moment, just as you are, you are enough. This is a radical act, and even if we might not be able to feel that enoughness fully, we can move in that direction, with love.
I’d love to hear from you. Are there things that have helped you shape and shift your relationship with enoughness? How do you interact with the question of being enough when it comes to your writing?
For free writing prompts and meditations to help you unlock your own inherent creativity, and for a free ebook with the seven steps to write with more power and ease, visit my free resource library: https://nadiacolburn.com/free-resource