There’s this one scene in the movie Pretty Woman where Vivian is lying in bed with Edward. The dialogue goes like this:
Vivian: People put you down enough, you start to believe it.
Edward: I think you are a very bright, very special woman.
Vivian: The bad stuff is easier to believe. You ever notice that?
It might seem simple and cliché but I still remember, years later, how true that rang for me. The bad stuff is easier to believe. That has always been the case for me and throughout my life I always thought I had several legitimate “reasons” why I felt this way.
I grew up with a particularly good-looking set of friends. This coupled with childhood cruelty meant that I heard over and over again how ugly I was and how I simply didn’t fit in. For the longest time, this was my biggest excuse for feeling like I wasn’t enough. I would never be pretty enough. I would never be wanted. I would never be loved.
While my social life and self-image were both lacking, I did have areas of strength. I’ve always been a relatively good student. I am not a genius by any definition, but I graduated from a top college with multiple degrees. I then went on to work on Wall Street where I became a Vice President. I quit that to become a teacher for Teach For America. Then I moved across the country and got another job, which then led me to my current job with Google. I know of many people whose careers are far better than mine, but this is not an area (unlike my looks) where I was teased, discouraged, or showed signs of failure. If anything, I was a success.
And yet, it was an event at work that finally showed me how deep my insecurities went.
A few years ago, I was sitting in my office when I got a call that my manager was looking for me, could I please come down to his office. My mind immediately went to the bad stuff. He is going to fire me, I thought. While a small part of my mind whispered, “Why would he fire you?” the rest of me easily squashed that sensible voice. By the time I made it down the twenty steps, I was sweating and freaking out. When I walked into his office, he asked me to close the door. If I needed a final sign (and I didn’t) this was it. He was letting me go.
The next thing my manager did was to pull out a sheet of paper and show me the extra stock I was receiving for being a good employee.
I kid you not.
I was getting a bonus and that’s why he wanted to see me.
This one moment changed my life. It was such a clear picture of how out of whack my sense of self was that I could no longer deny it. I could no longer use my childhood friends as an excuse for not feeling enough. They might have made fun of my looks but they never called me stupid. On the contrary, they made fun of me for working too hard, reading too much, being too bright. So the worry that I wasn’t good enough for this job had nothing to do with them.
I finally had to admit that it was all coming from me. Somewhere along the line, I had embraced the “I am not enough” mentality and I was liberally applying it to all areas of my life. I am not pretty enough. I am not thin enough. I am not smart enough. I am not good enough. I am not enough.
This mentality has limited my life in so many ways. From the small things like how I haven’t worn a bathing suit in years or refuse to dance to the big things like not going after exciting opportunities because I feel I don’t deserve them or not standing up for myself when I am clearly being wronged. It has also meant that I live every minute of my life trying to measure up to a nonexistent example of “ideal.” I read other people’s blogs or watch my friends’ lives and take the very best of everyone and everything and wonder why I don’t have it. Why can’t I exercise that often? How come I can’t be the perfect mom? How come my art never looks like that? I constantly live with the fear that the people around me will finally wake up and realize that I really am not enough. My husband will leave, my boss will fire me, friends will stop calling, etc, etc.
Doesn’t it tire you just to read about it?
The fact is, it’s a lot of work to feel so inadequate all the time. It’s a lot of work to feel so sorry for myself. To feel so much anxiety. To be so sad all the time. To worry constantly.
So I’ve decided it’s time to let it all go. I’ve never been one for moderation. For me, it’s do or don’t do. I look at the person I’ve become and the constant worry I live with, and I know that I don’t want my kids to grow up with that around them. I don’t want them to see a mom who’s too insecure to dance. I don’t want to spend my days worrying about my work or my marriage ending. More importantly, I want my kids to grow up knowing that they are enough. They are strong enough, beautiful enough, and intelligent enough. They have everything they need. They are everything they need. And how can I help them build that mindset if I don’t have it myself?
Since the incident in my manager’s office, I’ve been focusing on taking responsibility for feeling inadequate. My childhood friends might have done some strong, initial damage but I chose to live with that story. I chose to carry it with me all these years and make it a part of who I am. Let it define me and my choices. I can only get rid of it if I take responsibility for its existence and my part in feeding it.
If I look into myself on a good day and stop focusing so hard on what other people might think, deep deep down, I see that reserve of strength. The quiet voice that tells me I really am enough. And that I can do this. I can let all the worry go and people will still be here and still love me and just being me, as I am, is enough. For anything. For everything.
It’s time to let that voice speak up. It’s time to stop believing the bad stuff and embrace the good. I deserve it. I am enough.
About Karen Grunberg
Karen Grunberg is wife to an amazing husband and mom to two incredible boys. They are her world and what’s she’s thankful for each day. She’s a technical program manager at Google. She is a photographer (http://www.greenhillphoto.com), a scrapbooker, and an avid reader. She is a life-long student and loves to learn new things regularly. She believes in the power of story-telling and her new class Book of Stories at Big Picture Scrapbooking is open for registration for only one more day. You can also find her on her blog Karenika which she updates daily.