What if my best is never good enough?

Dear Alice,

That's my question. What if my best is never good enough?

Dear Reader,

What an excellent and thought-provoking question! One way to answer this question is to start by answering a second question: good enough for whom? Living in what can be a very competitive and status-oriented society, personal background (family, cultural and political background, ethnicity, nationality, religion, etc.) can play a role in structuring what ideas of success and failure look like. While succeeding in the eyes of others can be rewarding, sometimes it can be critical to separate others' metrics from your own. 

You might begin to ask yourself, how do I measure my own success in a situation? Are the metrics I am using the best way to evaluate myself? Answering these questions in a self-affirming, positive and empowering way might mean recalibrating your metrics or changing what qualities you ascribe to success. For example, maybe you have a fitness goal. If your goal is to get in better shape, you might start by translating your goal into a series of actions meant to help you achieve that goal. You might recalibrate your eating pattern to include more fresh produce, limit soda or fast food, as well as commit to a regular workout regimen. What if, after six months, you didn’t lose weight but you increased cardiovascular fitness, made some new friends, gained some new skills, and changed your perspective on physical activity? Does this mean that you your best wasn't good enough? By setting flexible goals for yourself, it may help you in recognizing success despite unanticipated outcomes.

Moreover, you may also be struggling with a fear of failure. Feeling fearful of failure can keep people from trying new experiences, create self-doubt, and prevent people from progressing forward. This feeling can be brought on by a number of factors, such as feeling the need to be perfect, over-identifying with failure, or having fragile self-confidence. One way to help individuals move beyond a fear of failure is to cultivate more self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is the ability to accept all of your attributes, both positive and negative. The level of self-acceptance a person has can have profound effect on their physical and mental health, as those with less of it tend to struggle more with their mental well-being than those with higher self-acceptance. There are a several techniques one can use to help foster self-acceptance, such as focusing on the positive aspects of yourself and your life while reorienting your thinking around negative situations to see the positives in them. Furthermore, engaging in activities that bring you a sense of purpose and connectedness with the world around you, whether they be through work or community service, can help foster a sense of self-acceptance.

If you find you’re still struggling with a fear of failure or how to best evaluate yourself, don’t be afraid to reach out and seek the support of others. You might ask a friend or family member to help you sort through your feelings about success. Sometimes close friends and family can be kinder and more supportive than the internal monologues you find running through your head. Additionally, you might also consider talking to a mental health professional with an outside perspective to help you sort through your feelings of doubt.

All in all, remember not to underestimate the value of your own internal measures for success. Being “good enough” can mean whatever you want it to mean. The mind is a powerful tool, and a positive, self-accepting attitude can go a long way in achieving happiness for life.

Last updated Feb 25, 2022
Originally published Mar 28, 2014

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