On Being Good Enough and Getting Better
A new friend recently wrote about the fear of not being good enough. She'd entered a plein air competition and then felt sheepish when she saw her paintings next to the others. She writes:
and then friday came, the night of the exhibit opening, and my inner gremlins attacked. as i walked through the exhibit all i wanted to do was rip my paintings off the wall and run away. i didn't even want to go and ask the gallery director how long he would be keeping my paintings. i was embarrassed and frustrated. my paintings stuck out, they didn't match the style or execution of any of the others. and i had priced mine several hundred dollars higher than the others. despite how good i had felt about my accomplishments before, my confidence was washed down the toilet during those few moments stuck inside the poorly lit gallery.. . .
on the drive home i mustered a question to my hubs through trembling lips, "i'm really not that good am i?" his reply was sweet and honest, "you are good, i think you just need to enter contests that showcase more work like yours." i know that he's right, but for a girl who doesn't even know what my style is for sure... it's hard to know which direction to go in.
I'm really not that good, am I?
Isn't that the question we all ask? Isn't that the little voice whispering in our ears all the time? Nudging us right before we fall asleep, when we try something new, when we share our heart's passion with others? Sometimes we can silence that voice: when we're deep in the throes of joyous creation or having ridiculous amounts of fun. But then we come back down from our high and that voice, that question, is right there waiting for us. How many times have I asked myself that question in a small, scared voice?
I'm really not that good, am I?
And then, when we're fortunate, our husband, our friend, our dentist, our sister, our teacher, a stranger, answers with kindness. They tell us the only truth that matters. They say, "Find your place."
We don't want to be told to find "our place." To put someone "in their place" is to humble them, to humiliate them, to show them where they belong, which is clearly not as high as they had hoped.
And yet, aren't we all searching for our place? The space in which we feel seen, heard, understood, loved?
Maybe nothing in life is about being good or bad, better or worse. Maybe it's all about finding our place: the place that feels right for us and fits our current style, our current needs.
In many ways, I'm not a competitive person. The very premise of a contest chafes against the magnanimous part of me that believes in equality, freedom of expression, beauty of individual choice. Some things have clear demarcations: The fastest runner wins the race. Some things do not: How do we judge who paints the better painting, who writes the better book?
And yet, relativism is a house built on shifting sand. If everything is good, how do we get better? I'm not a competitive person until I'm competing with myself.
I recently submitted an article and was told that my opening "wasn't going to cut it." I was embarrassed, but realized that the editor was right.
I wailed about this humiliation to my husband, who is always my rock in this sandy desert. I was upset that my article wasn't good enough. On top of that, I was upset about being so upset.
"Why am I so fragile about things like this?" I asked, mostly rhetorically.
"Why wouldn't you be?" he replied, almost rhetorically.
"I should be a better writer by now!" I lamented.
"Why?" he challenged me. "How much better do you have to be before you're as good as you think you should be?"
"Just a little better," I said with a slight smile. I was thinking of this line, often attributed to the very wealthy Andrew Carnegie:
"How much money is enough?"
"Just a little more."
After I got over myself, I reworked the article. And the full irony of the situation dawned on me: By worrying about the pain of not being good enough, I was missing out on the experience of getting better.