Am I good enough? It’s a question that I have often asked myself.
When I am entertaining the idea of a new venture or project, a leap into unfamiliar territory, the question pops into my head accompanied with an all too familiar physical sensation of tightness in my chest and the palpable quickening of my heart.
Can I do it? Do I have what it takes to make it happen?
I was examining the answer to those questions while doing an exercise in which I needed to create a timeline beginning from the completing of high school to today. In it, I needed to document my professional life as well as my personal life and note the high points and low points of both.
Admittedly, I didn’t look forward to this exercise, because the thought that immediately came to mind were the myriad of disappointments and the many “what if only” moments that have frequently peppered my thoughts. The thought of putting pen to paper and documenting such times and sharing them with a class wasn’t appealing to me. I had always kept such thoughts to myself, fearing that the discovery of them would reveal me as a fraud, a failure.
After several weeks of procrastination, I pulled out some poster board, markers and a ruler and begin creating a timeline, breaking each board into increments of 7 years, marking significant dates such as graduating college, getting my first job, my first publications, beginning a podcast and leaving a good job to begin life as a freelancer. Accompanying those events, were moments in my personal life including my parents divorce, my own marriage and the purchase of my first home.
I placed green dots on the moments that provided me the most joy and yellow dots for those times of deepest frustration and despair. I linked these with a drawn red line, which created a visual graph of the ups and downs of my emotional life.
I was surprised by what I saw in front of me. On the page, I saw what I had managed to accomplish in my life, especially in the last few years, which included writing two books and managing to remain self-employed after five years. Despite the fact that I had been rife with self-doubt and insecurity, I had nevertheless managed to accomplish some wonderful things. I had created opportunities for myself that were challenging and exhilarating.
Yet, I hadn’t been seeing it. I realized that I had been fixated on those things I hadn’t done. I was lamenting where I thought I should have been rather than appreciating where I was. I was so busy comparing my insides to other people’s outsides that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.
When I looked at the moments that brought my greatest levels of happiness and satisfaction, they were always moments when I felt challenged. During such times, life wasn’t about the dull, predictable routine. It was about facing the unknown and unpredictable and discovering what I was truly able to achieve and accomplish. More often than not, I surprised myself by what I could achieve with the experience and skills that I already had.
Luck and good timing inspired some of these accomplishments. Others happened from thoughtful planning and dutiful footwork. Then there were those choices that were made when the thought of continuing to say no to myself was both unacceptable and unbearable.
The times when I felt most depressed where during times when I was overextending a welcome, with a relationship or a job. Though each job had proven challenging and satisfying, there eventually came a time when I wanted something more and the reality was it wasn’t likely to happen if I stayed put. Yet, I would delay making a change, seduced by the perceived security of a bi-weekly paycheck and benefits. I could just continue to fantasize about an imagined life. That wouldn’t cost me anything. So, I thought.
But the longer I stayed in that comfortable setting, the more uncomfortable I became, the more dissatisfied I felt.
Yet, when I would think of making a change, the question of whether I was good enough, prepared enough to make such a decision would arise. And the more I said no to myself, the more miserable I became.
When I looked at my life on paper, I saw that during those moments when I felt most fulfilled and happy, I was never completely ready to make a change. I hadn’t done some kind of personal inventory and declared myself complete vetted and certified. I just decided it was time to do it and I just did it. I leapt into a world where the only certainty was uncertainty.
And when I faced the inevitable problems or crisis, I would figure them out and keep moving. Even when failure seemed imminent, I kept moving. Even when I felt like everything was ready to fall apart, I put one foot in front of another and did the next thing that needed doing: putting the next word on the page, picking up the phone and making that call, saying yes when everything inside me was telling me to say no and crawl back under a rock.
Those terrible feelings didn’t disappear. They were still there, feeling as real as anything, but they were no longer standing in my way.
I wish I could say that every day, I have this clarity of thinking. I don’t. There are days when the feelings get the better of me and I’m a worthless mess. Then there are the other days, when I quiet those voices enough to get the next thing done and I make progress and good things begin to happen as a result. They might not happen on my timetable, but they eventually do happen.
The answer to the questions of whether I’m good enough or whether I’m ready enough have never gotten answered when relegated to the confines of my own mind. The answer only comes when I have made the choice to do something different, to take the risk and face the possibility of personal and sometimes, public failure. The answer manifests itself not in words, but in the work or project or challenge I make the choice to take on.
Some of these things turned out better than others. I achieved tremendous successes and have experienced some embarrassing failures. There were times when I received warming praise and other moments when I was subject to withering criticism.
But in the end of each effort, I have always felt the satisfaction of knowing that I made a choice that affirmed what is good about me and the talents that I have been blessed with.
Today, I’m good enough to get the things done that need to get done. What happens after that is often out of my hands, but if the past is any indication, there are good thing ahead for me, whether I feel I’m ready for them or not.
Ibarionex Perello is a photographer, writer, educator and host of the popular interview show, The Candid Frame. He is the author of Chasing the Light: Improving Your Photography Using Available Light.