We constantly question ourselves – whether we're pretty enough, smart enough, fashionable enough, busy enough. We also question whether we're too much: too anxious for love, too active on social media, too needy with our boyfriend, and so on. In our desire to comfort ourselves, we tend to lean on trite statements of positivity – and this can be harmful.
Maybe you have heard the phrase, “You are enough,” or you've had a friend tell you when you’re down, “You’re perfect just the way you are.” We love to comfort each other with platitudes like this. At face value, these statements are often harmlessly comforting sentiments. And yet, as we try to soothe our sad friends with these words, they don’t quite ring true.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear Allie Beth Stuckey get into this topic in one of her recent podcasts. Allie shares that she sees Instagram celebrities frequently throwing around “You are enough” phrases to quiet their insecurities, to block out comparisons, and to dismiss anxiety. “This seems to be an exclusively female thing,” Allie says, “This need we have to hear that 'we are enough'."
Encouraging people to believe that they're perfect the way they are encourages mediocrity.
But are we actually “enough” just the way we are? Is this actually even comforting, to be simply told, “you are enough?” Allie says no. And I’d have to agree. Encouraging people to believe that they're perfect the way they are encourages mediocrity and discourages self-improvement. And women deserve much better than that from each other.
Was Marilyn Wrong?
Marilyn Monroe’s oft-quoted statement plays into this idea as well. “I'm selfish, impatient and a little insecure,” she once said. “I make mistakes, I am out of control, and at times hard to handle. But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best.”
Marilyn’s words emphasize this idea that others need to accept us exactly as we are. She voices her faults and says that this is who she is – and if some guy can't handle it, he doesn't deserve her. But…if she can recognize and articulate her faults, what's stopping her from moving forward and trying to be better? What's more, if she has no intention of remedying her flaws, why should any good guy want to be with her?
Sadly, the way women discuss self-worth has taken a definitive turn towards complacency. Our feminism-crazed culture teaches us that as women, we can do, say, and achieve whatever we want. We no longer need to fear pregnancy, sexism, stereotypes, or burdensome families; rather, we're strong, empowered women who can lead the world.
But then we're told that we're perfect the way we are and that anyone who tells us differently is hateful. Proud women like Marilyn push us to believe that anyone who won't embrace us as exactly who we are doesn’t deserve to be in our lives.
It has now become countercultural to say that we should strive for excellence.
Shockingly, it has now become countercultural to say that we should strive for excellence. Yet this is what we women all seem to desperately desire: that perfect body, the ability to run that marathon, that scholarship our friend receives, or the public praise they obtain for their generosity. In fact, as humans, we're always on the lookout for that greater good because we are naturally drawn to things we perceive as good!
Encourage Action, Not Empty Platitudes
As we comfort our friend who just couldn’t get that boy to love her or who didn't get into that graduate program, we can offer her more than empty assurances that she's perfect the way she is. We can offer her action. We can show her the talents she possesses, the things in her life she has worked hard for, the people she loves and who love her. And we can push her to continue to love, to work hard, and to reach for that greatest good.
A wise man once said that we are what we repeatedly do: “Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” If we desire the world’s respect, we must learn to respect our own innate dignity first. If we dislike our relationship with our parents, we need to take action and discuss this with them. If we want to lose weight, we need to make a plan to eat healthier and to exercise – and then act on it. Excellence will never come from simmering in the mediocrity of just being “enough.”
Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.
And because we're human, we will probably fail the first few times. We still won’t be enough! The point is – we're still struggling to be better, striving to achieve a higher good. We won't be satisfied with mediocrity, with telling ourselves that we're just good enough, because we recognize that we deserve better than that.
The beauty of our inadequacies is not that they're enough the way they are; it's that we will always possess the ability to reach further for greatness.