We spend so much of our lives chasing a sense of doing “enough” and being “enough.”
Though I anticipate it’s been years in the making, I feel like I woke up one day and just had enough. This time, it wasn’t in a hopeless way. It was more of an awakening and permission to stop running on the treadmill to nowhere.
At first, I felt a wave of grief as I let go of the false illusions of what I thought life needed to be and of who I thought I needed to be.
And then I transitioned into a period of rebirth as I reclaimed my own life. As I use these words, I think of Martha Beck’s interpretation of The Change Cycle, which may be referenced in her book Finding Your Own North Star or via Google. I highly recommend Martha Beck’s work for anyone who is “Wayfinding.” Martha Beck’s Wayfinder program has been instrumental in my healing journey. But I digress.
For today, let’s dive into “enoughness.” As I know many relate to the ride, I hope sharing my journey helps you to find your peace, too.
First, the reflection.
Throughout life, I’ve been judged for being too big, too small, too quiet, too loud, a dentist — but not a surgeon, a surgical resident — but not X type surgical resident. And “oh no, a woman!” The list goes on and on.
I was in the Air Force and jokingly was told I wasn’t “military enough” compared to other branches.
As a dentist, I wasn’t “doctor enough,” and after getting my MD, I still was not “enough” as I hadn’t yet finished a residency. “Worse” (my brain would offer me), I was transferring out of surgery. I had many internal judgments about myself at this point, none of which remotely sounded like being “enough.”
After transferring from surgery, I specialized in oral medicine, so then I belonged in both dentistry and medicine — or neither — studying a lot of both, yet feeling not “enough” of either.
While sorting out where I belonged, I started researching full-time in a role that combines my formal trainings. As a new researcher, I did not yet have “enough” publications.
Then, I contributed to more publications, but not yet “enough” first author publications…
Oh, by the way, which journal? What’s the impact factor? Nope, sorry … that’s not “enough.”
As I currently dedicate myself to research, I have taken a hiatus from the clinic.
However, I constantly worry that if I am not in the clinic, am I doing “enough” for the patients? If I go back to clinic, it’ll take away from my time spent on my current research tasks. Then, I may not have “enough” time.
I allow myself to consider the potential.
When I think about adding back a clinical role, I am enthused by the potential to add tremendous value to patients’ quality of lives; however, the encounters would not translate to high RVUs compared to X surgeon or X high-paying specialty.
So, the politicalized health care system and the learned belief that money is a reflection of value provides me with the sense that I would not be adding “enough” value. And when I think of my value in this context, I wonder, “Should I do surgery, again?”
And then I pause as I hit that trauma response which leaves my mind and body flooded with an intense aversion to the thought of surgery, likely as a form of self-protection, considering that I left surgery because I developed SI.
And as I sit in the storm of emotions, I acknowledge a key rumination that was deeply associated with my experience of SI – the belief that I was trapped in an endless cycle of never doing or simply being “enough”… That thought can lead to tremendous self-destruction if not challenged.
So, here we are.
Here, I paused to challenge my thought pattern with a simple question from “The Work” by Byron Katie: Is It true?
Is it true that nothing I ever did was “enough”? That I am not “enough”?
The reality is that I had developed this deep internal belief about myself and then confirmation bias provided me the opportunity to find ways to prove myself correct.
Without a sense of inner self-worth and inherent “enoughness,” I hyper-fixated on all the feedback I received that told me I was “too little” or “too much.” These comments often reflect the other person’s internal insecurities and values. I believed them deeply because of my own insecurities.
And then bam — I hit the wall.
I had enough.
Stunned by the impact, I sat in an existential crisis and, this time. Instead of running for another accomplishment or diving into overwork in order to temporarily numb the pain of this emptiness, I sat. I observed. I silenced the mind. I decided: no more spinning. Enough is enough.
I stepped off the merry-go-round and started learning more skills in how to be still, silent, and process through all the emptiness. At first, it felt like a hole of darkness … empty, lonely, and cold. However, over time, this darkness turned into hope and the black hole was replaced by a blank, bright white canvas with limitless possibilities.
I began to feel grounded as I picked up the paintbrush while surrounded by a vast array of paint colors admiring the newfound lightness and excitement. I realized that I get to create the painting before me: a representation of my life and a vision board of hope and rebirth.
And as I breathe in and prepare to put color to the canvas, I put my hand to my heart and remind myself: You are safe. You are whole. You are “enough.”
Breathe out. Long exhale.
Breathe in and repeat. You are safe. You are whole. You are “enough.”
Join me as desired and know that at this very moment. You are “enough” now and always.
Jillian Rigert is an oral medicine specialist and radiation oncology research fellow.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com