Monday, June 9, 2014

Feeling Invisible and Being Enough

Do you ever have that moment when someone says something and it resonates to your core? It’s almost a palpable punch to the gut, and you feel like you’ve just been taught something about your soul that you should have recognized before but never quite understood until that very moment?

This morning, I was at church (yes, I periodically attend a church even though I’m not religious… I am an enigma; deal with it) and the young man giving the sermon was discussing how he felt growing up. And despite one key difference – that he was teased for being tall, while I was noted for being short – a good part of his story sounded like my own. I felt a strong connection to his story when he talked about being an academic achiever, about how he always made As in school and how this was part of his identity as a youth.

But what hit me was what he said a little later about this drive to achieve. It hit me hard. What he realized about himself, later in life, was that while he was growing up, he didn’t really like himself all that much, and that his pursuit of achievement wasn’t really an effort to achieve success or knowledge. Not down deep. It turns out that he was trying to achieve “enoughness.” He was trying to be “enough” – good enough for someone else to like him, fun enough for others to want to be friends with him, cute enough for girls to notice him… or simply enough for him to like himself.

Trying to achieve enoughness. That’s a pretty powerful concept, isn’t it? This idea that a person might be motivated not purely by an interest in the achievement itself – be it academic or sports-related or familial or health or some other such goal – but by the need to prove to yourself that you are somehow enough. Enough to be liked. Enough to be loved. Enough not to be replaceable.

The statement – “trying to achieve enoughness” – hit me like a telephone pole to the forehead when you’re walking down the street and texting at the same time.

I’d never really put that “trying to achieve enoughness” feeling into words before. It’s something I’ve recognized about myself, somewhere inside, for a long time. When this man said what he said, he could have been talking about me.

Am I still insecure about myself these days? No. I’ve learned to like myself. I’m going to live with myself for the rest of my life, so I might as well be happy with who I am – intellectually, physically and emotionally. And I am. I’m pretty damn fond of me. You should be, too. I’ll introduce you to me sometime so you can see for yourself.

But when I was young, I felt… well, if I’m being completely honest, I felt small. I felt insignificant. It was as if my short stature reflected on the outside how I felt on the inside. And the way I coped with that was to focus my efforts hard on my academics. I was too clumsy to excel in sports and too shy to try to be a class clown or some sort of clique or class leader. But I could learn and test with speed and ease. And I did. And I leaned on that and cherished that and tried to be proud of that… and I always felt good about what I’d done but could not manage to feel good about me. I felt like the effort was enough, but that I wasn’t.

Before my mother calls me out as a liar (hi, Mom), I feel I need to clarify that I also was very headstrong and confident in my beliefs. It's easy to confuse a child who is solidly assured in his or her convictions with one who is confident in himself or herself. But there's a difference. I always have been clear and certain about what I know or what I feel in my heart. However, that confidence didn't extend to my feelings about myself as a person.

Now, because I was shy, my shortness played another role in this saga in that it allowed me to become invisible when I wanted to be. If you’re small in stature and relatively slim in build, it’s amazing how much you can make yourself blend into the crowd… into the walls… into the corner. To become invisible. It was both a blessing and a curse for me when I was young. When I wanted not to be noticed, I would make myself unseen, and I would feel safe. But the flip side of that is that if you can go unnoticed so easily, it’s easy to feel unremarkable. It’s easy to feel not noticeable enough. Not interesting enough. Invisible. Don’t get me wrong; around my good friends, I could laugh and banter and act crazy and feel at ease. I could let loose and have fun. But it was all too easy for me to disappear among the masses.

These days, as I stated, I’m at ease with myself. I’m happy and confident with who I am and with the life I lead, and I don’t need to hide from or apologize to the world. I’m no longer shy or reserved (as far as you know), and I quite enjoy doing activities that require me to be noticed, such as participating in conferences or giving presentations or public speaking. You can’t try to fade into the background or have doubts about your enoughness to do those things effectively! And I don’t want to try to fade into the background any longer. I do what I do because I enjoy it, not because I’m trying to prove something to anyone. Not even to myself.

Still, once in a while, when life or work runs a little off-kilter and things aren’t going as I want or expect, I admit that I feel that old nagging tug on my heart, hear that whisper in my ear that suggests that maybe, just maybe, I’m still not enough. Maybe I should fade quietly into the background while I buckle down and try to work harder or do more or somehow be better…  to get back to achieving enoughness. It’s tempting sometimes, because it feels so secure to have that focus and that invisibility.

The feeling is real, for certain, but fortunately it’s fleeting. No matter how much I can relate to that girl that I used to be, no matter how much I can still feel that pain in my heart and that ache in my belly that she felt all those years ago, I’m no longer the same person. Because I know who I am, and I’m happy with who I am, and I refuse to feel “less than” – for anything or anyone. I’m happy now. I am… enough.

1 comment:

  1. Always so happy when you share yourself. You are, have been, and always will be AMAZING and very tall in stature to me. You know who I am.


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