I’m good enough.
I’m smart enough.
And doggone it, people like me.
Those are the famous words of the Saturday Night Live character, Stuart Smalley, beloved for the humorous way in which he borrowed from any self-help or twelve-step movement in order to feel better about himself. And they sound a lot like words I often use in my clinical practice, in my writing, and in my own mirror. I often talk about the never-good-enough feeling called shame, and the importance of healing it by believing we are already worthy, even beautiful.
But Stuart Smalley’s sentiments are actually the opposite of mine.
Recently, my son was one of two sixth graders who qualified for his middle school’s spelling bee. And he qualified with the second highest score in the school. In the week leading up to the spelling bee, he walked with a bit of a swagger. His peers had heard about his scores. He was smart enough. And doggone it, people liked him.
Then the day of the spelling bee arrived.
Ten kids on stage. Six-hundred some students, teachers, and parents in the crowd. My son normally loves the stage, but he’d never been on one that big. And he froze. His first word was not difficult, but he misspelled it. Of course, the only thing worse than standing up and screwing up at a spelling bee is having to go sit down. For the rest of the competition. On stage. Humiliated.
Check that, there is one thing worse: the teasing.
After the competition ended, he tried to blend back into the student body, but a very vocal group of kids wouldn’t let that happen. They teased him relentlessly for the rest of the day. He kept the shame of it inside; it didn’t leak out through his eyes. But it filled him up quickly, and by the time he got home, he was overflowing with it.
The problem with Stuart Smalley’s phrase isn’t the first line.
It’s the next two.
If we feel good enough, what is that belief based upon? Am I good enough because I’m smart enough, which usually means, smarter than pretty much everybody else? And even worse, am I good enough because people like me?
Is our worthiness predicated upon such fickle circumstances?
Because one tumble over the handle bars can turn smart enough into not very smart at all, in a heartbeat. Does that mean you’re suddenly less human, less worthy, less good? And one stumble over a spelling bee word can make the crowd turn against you awfully fast. When the crowd goes away, does your worth go away, too? And how many people, exactly, have to return before you’re deemed good enough once again?
Is my son less loveable because he spelled a word wrong?
Is he less good because the crowd treated him badly?
The truth is, I’ve never loved him more than I did in his most disappointing moment after the spelling bee. He’s good enough. My affection for him testifies to it. I’m guessing all of us have someone in our lives for whom we feel that kind of affection. The trick, of course, is making that someone ourselves.
My son added a ‘c’ to a word where it didn’t belong. But he’s worthy. No qualifiers. No crowds. No matter what.
And so are you.
You are enough.
Even if you spell it E-N-U-F.
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