“I’m Not Good Enough” is The Lie I Tell Myself Most Often
In recent weekend moments, I realized that I’ve never talked about my past experiences out loud, not really. I always find a way to wrap the bad experiences delicately into lessons learned. Another way I mask the truth from others and the lie that I’ve planted and grown myself, the idea that “I’m not good enough.” The broken record that has been overplayed in my mind, unable to rid myself of the self-doubt and fear to post something other than a “pretty selfie” and continuing to compare myself to others.
As I am typing this out, it sounds absolutely ridiculous. I shouldn’t care what other people think about me, let alone a picture of my face. You’re right. I tried to care less about my social media presence last summer and it felt freeing, for a second, until that shrill, small shriek of doubt entered into my bloodstream. The “I’m not good enough” story is a whisper I’ve let grow into a roaring lie, curated and developed from past experiences.
As a young child I was an artsy and creative type. I lead my group of friends with passion and ease in performing plays, creating costumes, fashion shows, news casts, and movies. I always had ideas to create and always found a way to make it happen. But, when I entered middle and high school, at the ages in which grades become your sole identity outside your social status, the whisper, “you’re not good enough” started and became criticism, comparisons and judgements towards myself.
I was never “good at school”, my test-taking skills were sub-par in comparison to my friends who had moved up to honors classes gracefully. I stayed behind in Math labs and standard classes where I still wasn’t top of my class and failed tests often. Instead of exploring my creative flow from childhood and excelling in that, I was told to fit into the box and mold of what an A-student looked like. I became a marionette for my friends, teachers and parents. I stopped caring about what I wanted to do and tried so hard to be the student that everyone wanted me to be. I thought that if I controlled my environment, and really focused on the things everyone else wanted me to be good at, that I could get them all off my back and finally be valued for who I was. I lost my individuality, my will to create, and instead, was told by my teachers and parents that I’d have to work harder than ever to do well in school so that I could get those things that I wanted. Working hard=success in life an American dream. A dream.
Maybe this paradigm is true in some respects, but the formula to have success became a formula, something to hack and figure out, something to fit into, something where there was only one solution instead of multiple. I was a sensitive child, I still am. School mornings were difficult for me because I knew that I had to put on a mask for something I never felt like I fit into. My self-esteem was so inflamed, angry and covered in self-doubt that I would take my chances in being the quiet one, the invisible student, praying I wouldn’t be called on in class and forced to give presentations because I was so scared to fail and mess up. The fragility and invisibility cloak worked to a point, if I was invisible, then I could be the perfect student, the student everyone wanted. This act I was putting on for everyone but myself was exhausting and it cost me a box of tissues and a mental breakdown in 11th grade.
Math class was the worst. English was a subject I could easily escape into, be vulnerable to a page that would listen, while Math class forced me to be one way. I never liked that there was only 1 answer to a problem, why couldn’t there be infinite answers? In high school, I developed a special hatred against math class. Being told that I’m not a math person for years had a price. In high school I had lost all confidence in myself, afraid to try new things and fail, it went against every ‘perfect student’ paradigm I told myself and made me feel worthless. I was spotlighted in 11th grade, when math class became something I routinely failed in, the invisibility cloak was wearing off and I was finally seen in the worst way.
My guidance counselor recommended that I’d be moved into a lower level math class. The way that school ranks you by grade, then, persists to group you by how “school smart you are” really isolates the students who don’t fit into the standard school structure. It made me feel like I wasn’t smart. It validated the whisper that started in 6th grade, it fed the lies inside my head, and I believed it.
I was separated from my friends and forced to face the low-level class where I belonged. But, my guidance counselor had placed me in the wrong class, one that went at a fast pace, learning new material everyday, I just couldn’t keep up. Mid-way through my 11th grade year, already behind and forced to adjust to the fast-paced class where I had not learned the material left, I had quit before I even started. I drifted further and further from feeling like I belonged.
I compared myself to my smart friends often, I wondered why I couldn’t learn the material like they could, why I’d fail the tests they thought were easy, why my grades kept sliding, when I was trying so hard to be the perfect student. I thought being an A-student would push all the worry and stress away. I wondered why school had to be so hard for me to get. I often wondered what was wrong with me.
I was broken into a million pieces before I even reached 16. Emotionally exhausted, my parents consulted a tutor for my math woes to help me catch up, but that didn’t help either. It was hours spent after school to help me catch up in a class that was too advanced. It was a neverending loop of frustration from my teachers, my tutors and myself that left me with failing grades and low-self-esteem.
It has taken me 29 years to digest this experience for what it is: a lesson. I may have not been an A student, but that’s okay. I may have never understood Algebra II/Trig class, but I through that struggle, I found writing to be my solace away from it all. I am creative, but these identities I showed up in for everyone else to accept, covered me completely until I was fully ready to accept it, and being perfect is not something that actually exists. If I have to be honest, it has taken me a long time to accept myself and shout it from the rooftops. Sometimes I question this feeling and wonder if it’s fleeting. But, c-est la vie.
As I finally become confident in myself and loving in my own skin, I also face the repercussions everyday of these memories from childhood. Opening myself up destroyed me at first, but it also gave me the tools to rebuild and rewrite the lies I had accepted as truth for so long. Not feeling good enough turned into, “I’m okay if they don’t get me, I love who I am, I am enough.”
At the end of the day, experiences are just experiences. And while we may feel our past’s strong pull to loop in the same negative patterning and repetitious lying we tell ourselves, we ultimately have agency at the end of the day to rewrite it. To reinvent ourselves. To remerge to create new positive experience. To hug ourselves and tell ourselves the truth. We deserve that much.
The “I’m not good enough”story is a scary one. It seeps into all areas of my life where I was too scared to stand up for myself and worse, that I’d have to earn my worth. If you’ve ever told yourself this lie, just know that this doesn’t define you. What other people say about you is not your business, nor, does it dictate your worth. You don’t have to prove anything. Own it and be grateful for your ability to come out of these experiences. Our present moments are limited and we shouldn’t waste them re-living pasts that shrink us.
I wanted to send out this message, as a reminder that your failures, past experiences, the terrible thoughts you think about yourself do not define you, you define you.