Why You’re Good Enough (No Matter What)

self-worth

Photo Credit: Bigstock (Flynt)

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.

Sounds similar.

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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Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Jennifer

    So awesome!! Thanks:)

  • Jana DeJager Faling

    Thanks for reminding me that I am good enough and not because I am smart enough! I need to remind myself of that at the moment when studies does not go according to my plan in my head and I do not feel smart enough.

    • It’s so tempting, isn’t it, Jana? Indeed, your worth is steady, even when the grades aren’t!

  • Wy

    Who says you’re enough? Isn’t this just self affirmation? Aren’t you just whistling in the dark? Don’t we need a source outside ourselves to affirm us?

    • Mike Gates

      I say no. Sources outside ourselves tend to be a.) fickle and b.) absent when you really need them.

      Isn’t it odd that we accept condemnation without question, yet mistrust affirmation? Reword the question to look at it differently: Who says you aren’t enough? In my case it wasn’t so much self-affirmation but rather realizing the self-condemnation I had been carrying around was a lie; not puffing myself up, just ceasing to beat myself down.

      • Boy, there is so much truth here, Mike. When the self-condemnation ceases, the interior whisper of our worthiness may be all that’s left. That’s good news!

    • It’s a good question, Wy, and “Whistling in the Dark” by Buechner is one of my favorites. For me, an even more intriguing question is, “Don’t we need a source inside of ourselves?” A source that doesn’t go away from us. Of course, the answer to that can’t be unpacked in a blog post. Which is why I’m unpacking it in my first book, due out next year. ; )

      • Wy

        I believe we do need a source inside ourselves, but we are not that source. No matter how many times we tell ourselves we are enough, we know deep down that we’re not. Someone from the
        outside must affirm our OKness. And I agree with Mike, it can’t be people.

  • Mike Gates

    Ah life. I remember my 1st (and only) spelling bee experience. I was so confident with my 1st word. I spelled the word correctly; however my confidence cause me to rush it and my diction wasn’t too good. I was told I spelled it wrong 🙁
    Hopefully your son will be able to use this experience to help “thicken the skin”. But not too thick. 😉

    • Spelling bees are brutal! Thick but not too thick. I think that’s what we’re talking about at our next Courtyard Conversation, right? 🙂

  • Ah, fond memories of misspelling “sweater” in the all school spelling bee… During the PRACTICE ROUND.

  • Christi Masso Byerly

    How well I remember spelling disappointment, “dissappointment”, and what a disappointment that was.
    Thank God it’s more about empathy, self-compassion, humanity, connection, and not about being smarter than others. I pray your son knows more than ever how much he’s loved.

    • Christi, that is poetically painful. It’s like misspelling “humiliation” in the spelling bee. And amen to all of the above.

  • Joyce Slaughter

    The teasing. I swear children turn into the devil in sixth grade. We have experienced similar with my sixth grader. So much so that between that and issues with his teachers, we are selling our house and moving to a different district.

    How do we, as parents, teach our children to be that other voice? That voice that says “hey friend, it was a little stage fright. It happens. You’re still awesome. I love you. I support you.” Because THAT voice …. that voice can help shore up our own inner Stuart Smalley voice. Build it. Give it confidence. Show us that our little mistakes are little and don’t define us.

    • Joyce, I’m so sorry to hear about what you’re going through with your son. I’m not sure about devils, but it is the age of the ego. Our next Courtyard Conversation is about raising kids with HEALTHY egos. I hope you can join us!

  • Shel Llee Flexman-Evans

    ❤️! That moment when we really know that we are good enough, not because of what we do, but because we ARE: what a beautiful epiphany. It feels so much more than E-N-U-F to know you are exactly that.
    And right on for your kiddo for putting himself out there, living in that moment, and then heading into all those moments he has ahead. What a beautifully supportive foundation your family is giving him.

    • Yes, yes, yes. It is perhaps THE beautiful epiphany. We try to be that foundation for him, Shel. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail. I guess that’s when we have to know we’re good enough, and then try again, right?

  • Steven Carlson

    As always, such good and helpful words Kelly. Though, everyone must confront what makes them enough? Yes, we simply “are”. I am a PLPC, a therapist recently graduated from grad. school, in Missouri working in private practices, and as I work with my own self, learn to love my girlfriend well, grow in counseling my clients, it can be helpful to guide people in bringing clarity as to the source of one’s “enoughness”. Of course, I reckon, that different worldviews will provide different answers to this question. But I find it a very practical and helpful (even necessary) question in this field, let alone for everyone simply for being human. Even in the comments here shared so far allude to “outer” or “inner” sources. Hopefully, we can and will avoid the either/or and be able and willing to embrace the both/and here.

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