Since I was a kid I’ve always felt very different to other people. Passionately creative, protective of others, restorative, anxious but driven, and stressfully hard working. Everyday was a battle of feeling good enough for others at the cost of my own happiness. Constant swirling thoughts about not being good enough. Smart enough. Fit enough. A complete disservice to who I really was and what I was actually capable of.
The term inner critic is being thrown around a lot in the mental health world. The Key To Life charity trust run by Mike King seem to lean into the term lots. It’s fair to say we all have our inner critic. Doubts about ourselves and our limits. But overpowering the critic might be easier than it seems. Heres a few practical reflections on aspects of my world that have helped me overpower my inner critic and be good enough for myself.
Be creatively resourceful, especially when nobody’s looking
I was a seriously happy kid. I made my own fun. I’d get lost in blank sheets of paper with a trusty pencil, eraser, and sharpener. I’d draw entire villages from a birds-eye view, even down to the leaves on the trees. Even dirt. I loved dirt. I’d dig up my dads garden just to build little towns where cars could drive and boats could float. Little moats with water flowing through them.
I’d build makeshift houses using pellets, break them and reconstruct new ones. Creativity and resourcefulness coexist like water to a river. Being creative when others weren’t around made room for spontaneity and innovation. Which through trial and error led to pretty amazing things, like having a whole castle in the backyard!
Its just as important to have people around who support the randomness. Love and security roamed powerfully through our home and in our community. It was like living in a protective dome. Probably a sign of good parenting. Loving parents, albeit controlling ones.
Protect and restore other people and avoid competing with them (where possible)
By the age of twelve I’d been practicing Taekwondo for seven years and had almost graded to first degree black belt. Our family was really intense about sports, but I was always a little bit different. My brother was the instructor for our school (or club), my mum was the co-instructor, and my sister was also a second degree black belt. Eventually I would be too. A family of black belts.
Martial arts taught about protecting others and restoring them as much as it did about self defence. I really enjoyed learning about restoring through de-escalation, and how to control myself and my own actions. Feeling in control, feeling like you can protect others, feeling a responsibility for keeping the peace. It was all a bit intense, but that’s what I loved about it. I loved being able to teach others. Trying to help people become stronger versions of themselves. Bringing others into the dome of safety I was taught to create.
The other side was being able to kick ass. Oddly enough I was never very interested in fighting or competing in tournaments. Pushing out kicks that could break bones was never interesting to me or was being pitted against other people who I knew and loved. It felt wrong, kicking and punching my friends. It was a hugely conflicting thing.
Even though I kept on going for many years I never felt good about competing against others in a sparring match. The appeal of beating the shit out of other people for sport wasn’t attractive but horrible and wrong. I’d constantly feel worried about being weak because of it too. A black belt that doesn’t like fighting. How could he not break boards with his hands he’s been here for years. Why is he not doing push ups on his fists he’s a senior belt and his whole family, what would they think of this. Such a confusing time, growing up. A conflicting narrative between loving peace and fighting for affirmation, literally
But it shouldn’t have been. Protecting others and restoring them through teaching them, as well as being able to look after myself at a super young age was immense! It was without a doubt a kick ass quality to have. Plus the altruism of teaching was cool too.
Learn through friendships and laughter, don’t prioritise school too far over banter
School was a mess, made good only by the amazing people who were there. All the stupidity, the banter, complaining about assignments and exams. But in that was little nuggets of gold. Information about the assignment, the exam. Insights from people who were smarter than me always made a huge difference in either getting the subject, or not. That included the teacher, at the risk of being the pet. But that’s what made school special, the mutual bonding with mates. But it also felt like a struggle for their approval and a battle to maintain a standard. That test was super easy, how did you not pass it. Growing up through school was an exhausting battle for creativity and laughter against rules and performance.
I’ve always been different, and across the board. School was similar. I’ve never been the smartest kid in school, or have I wanted to be. School was good because of the awesome people who were there. The whacky stories teachers told, the random things your mates did, the laughter. On the other hand I felt obligated to try hard because I was made to feel like failing was bad. Getting things wrong was a bad thing. I was terrified of making mistakes. Like it was life or death.
The protective dome my parents had created could not save me from the test my teacher dished out. Words on a paper, paper that was not a world I had constructed or drawn up in the comfort of my home. Paper that I could not control. I was so scared of failing because it was unclear what failure might bring. So it felt like the only option was to perform and put school in front of mates. Which came at the cost of missing out.
I had massive FOMO (fear of missing out) too. The idea of being left out of things was crushing. When things were really stressful I knew it was necessary to make those sacrifices. But doing it every Saturday always resulted in people not asking if I wanted to hang out. Not prioritising school too far beyond my mates was an important check and balance of maintaining social connection and great memories.
Work really hard, but don’t babysit other people
Getting a job was a bit of a break through. It was still boringly similar to school just with the benefit of getting paid. Different managers brought out different things. Some were really random, and it brought out my creative independence. Others were really critical, and it brought out the veins on my forehead. But work as a whole gave me a chance to earn to be more me.
My first job was a trolley boy at a supermarket. I really enjoyed the challenge. To be consistent, to deal with shift work. Struggling to not get run over in the car park. Struggling to meet the demands of a needy boss. Struggling to survive the dreaded last half hour before lunch or home time. But I’m definitely a sucker for pain. The self improvement and acknowledgment from hard work always made me happy. Plus it helps to have a savings account full of money to go buy food with, or silly shit that teenagers buy with their cash like a Stussy shirt, Vans shoes, or a penny skateboard. Working hard was rewarding because I felt like I was helping others, like my boss, or a customer.
But not all my workmates worked hard. Some were lazy as hell and mucked around smoking darts in the trolley bay. Even after I moved on to other roles in different jobs I still found those people. For them I found it was more about the money, and if having conversations or letting them muck around made them happy, then it made me happy. Helping them made me feel better, but it was like looking after a baby and almost always it would come at the cost of my own wellness and workload.
The less they did meant the more I’d have to carry. Picking up the slack they left behind, it was like changing nappies. Pleasing everyone was more important than looking after myself. A toxic, unhealthy, and problematic habit. Asking for help felt like not being good enough. Even the suspicion of not being good at working felt bad. So instead of asking for help, working harder seemed like the only option. Making trade offs like staying overtime, working through breaks, and not stopping for lunch. The list goes on. All completely out of the fear of not being good enough.
Getting stressed from not working hard enough was a common theme growing up. Adding to the pile of other things that made me different. Working hard was part of my bone density. The idea of doing nothing was terrifying. Something I’ve always respected. But helping others to the point where they’re taking advantage is a sure was of getting sick and creating an avenue for people to continue doing so.
Wear your heart on your sleeve but beneath an outer shell
The biggest weakness of a loyalist probably has to be getting into relationships and being taken advantage of. I’ve always been super confused by relationships. Knowing how much of my weirdness I can bring to the table. How hard the other person should be working at the relationship. Wearing my heart on my sleeve made me feel happy as much as it brought tears. Being too open signposted reasons for others to take advantage.
Things going wrong in relationships almost always felt like my fault. Fighting, not texting for days at a time, breaking up. Things going wrong in relationships felt like failure that could have been avoided. Every now and again entire weeks would be spent trying to fix things gone wrong over text at night. Her pain and dissatisfaction amount to my uselessness and not being good enough. Friends would pipe up saying how useless my ex’s were. “Oh, thank fuck she’s gone, maybe that wasn’t the healthiest situation to be in bro.”
But it’s easy to think you’re weak when you’re not in the relationship. Like sitting a test in school, the fear of not knowing how to avoid putting a foot out of place was not something my parents’ dome could save me from either. At least in work the ramifications of making a mistake are easily compensated by hard work. Compensating in a relationship just makes you look worse.
Wear your heart on your sleeve but protect it with an outer shell. Something to protect from all the external factors like judgment, jealousy, tall poppy syndrome, anger, self-dejection, normalising racist remarks or discrimination, the list goes on. An outer shell to keep everything under control. To allow you to be yourself in the most sacred times, to keep on gauge on what’s internal versus what’s external.
I still haven’t found what I’m looking for… and that’s the way it is
Like that old song from that old band. I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. Which is probably the most exciting thing about me. My hope for the future is strong. The future relationships, the future work opportunities, the future schooling (thankfully in universities), more creative adventuring, and most important of all, more time to be me and enjoy being good enough. Not for my friends, not for my bosses, not for my teachers, or even my parents. But for me.
If it’s one thing I think I want to take away from all this, it’s not to be good enough but to be really clear about what makes me special. It’s about getting real clear about where things sit on a scale and asking myself questions like: Am I being too trusting or is this person worth it? Am I restoring people and the community or should I be focusing on my own needs? Do I value the thing being taught enough to stress my brains out? The perception of good enough has changed now to better suit who I am as a person.
Being good enough depends on myself, and nobody else. If it’s anything I’ve learned it’s that my subjective ‘good enough’ is my responsibility. Because not owning decisions is an easy way of hurting myself and others. Toxic relationships, getting into fights, not studying for an exam. The only persons actions we can control are our own.
Everyone has mana, think about it and acknowledge it
Mana is a persons inherent dignity or prestige. Everyone has mana, especially me… But everyone’s has it. Unique characteristics that are worth celebrating in their own right. Talking about being good enough in context of the million tiny differences makes comparing with others sound stupid. And as cheesy as it is, we are all unique. And if we accept that our skills and abilities vary on scales then being good enough to others is irrelevant and the only person who we need to be good enough for is ourselves.