How do you measure a year like 2020? 525,600 minutes unlike anything the world has ever seen. A year of fear, uncertainty, doubt, plans on hold, lives uprooted, and a reimagining of what it means to be together when we are all so far apart. Like most of us, the uncertainty of the past 365 days hung over my head as I began my yearly evaluation of my own growth. How do you evaluate who you are and where you are going when you barely recognize the world you are living in?
Am I Enough?
In retrospect, my choice to adopt “I Am Enough” as my 2020 guiding words seemed like it was perfectly suited to combat the waves of crushing stress, disconnection, and exhaustion that encompassed the global state of Pandemic life. After all, the concept was intended to be an affirmation of our own completeness and validity, no matter how we are capable of showing up in that moment. The saying has sparked hundreds of books, blog posts, and even entire movements of people finding self-acceptance through grace and gratitude.
I longed for all of these things as I held tight to these words, repeating them to myself in high and low moments, hoping to manifest some of that sense of worth and confidence. But all year long, despite my best intentions, the words rang hollow. “I Am Enough,” I would say, but how am I enough if I could have been more? How am I enough when it is clear I’ve fallen short? How am I enough when I can’t meet a need, or fulfill an obligation, or give the right support? How am I enough when I can see that someone clearly needed more of me, more from me… more THAN me?
Battered by the storms of this year, the same storms that wrapped the whole world, I struggled hard to cling to the buoy of “being enough” when I clearly felt I wasn’t. In the midst of this tempest, I came across a poem by Nirmala which cut through my mental fog like a lighthouse on the shore:
the truth catches up with me
I am not enough
never have been
never will be
what relief to admit this finite container
can never contain infinity
what joy to find infinity needs no container
“What relief to admit this finite container can never contain infinity,” and what a weight was lifted off my chest as I read that sentence over and over again. It turns out that “I Am Enough” is a lot like “All Bodies Are Beautiful” — a lovely sentiment on the surface that actually breaks down in practice. When speaking about bodies, rather than trying to struggle against the existing definition of beauty, wrestling it into a new configuration that is broader and more inclusive, why don’t we question why beauty has to be the metric against which we are measured? Why do we have to be beautiful?
I have realized it is the same with the concept of Enough.
In truth, there is never Enough. Not enough food (we will always be hungry again), not enough knowledge (there is always more to learn), not enough love (we will always find ways to give and receive more). Instead of measuring ourselves against infinity and constantly falling short, why don’t we change the metric? Finite beings are never going to be capable of being “enough,” and that not a flaw — it’s by design.
We can’t ever be Enough. We can only be who we are… and that is exactly who we are supposed to be.
One of the most demoralizing parts of the past year was the elimination of so many of the things that gave our lives meaning. Human beings are constantly searching for a higher purpose outside of themselves, and most people find it through a sense of community. Whether those communities are spiritual, social, philanthropic, professional, or by proximity, we find our higher purpose through the ways we come together.
Brené Brown refers to this as the “inextricable connection” we seek as humans looking for belonging. She’s referred to this concept in several of her earlier books, but really fills out the details of this theory in her 2017 publication Braving The Wilderness. Beyond the simple idea that “humans are social creatures,” she cites research showing that loneliness, stemming from a lack of meaningful in-person social connection, is almost as bad for us physically as smoking, hypertension, and other chronic conditions.
This was a worrisome thought in the context of the social distance of 2020, as I wondered how sick we were making ourselves in the process of avoiding disease. I had been feeling the draining loss of my own communities, and the bleak ennui stemming from a lack of purpose. As my energy drained, I could no longer ignore these feelings by simply working harder. I was desperate for a source of meaning within isolation, and having relinquished my quest to be Enough, I dug into this further. What does it mean to belong, especially in the context on an uncertain, distant, and divided world?
She cautions first that belonging is different than fitting in, and finding connection through being genuine is different than bonding over negativity. If you feel like you have to conform or hide parts of yourself, if your relationships are based on gossip and snark, if the thing that unites you is simply that you are not a member of a different group – these things are not belonging. Instead, she proposes the following definition of what it means to truly belong:
“True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are, it requires you to be who you are.”
Belong To Yourself
If higher purpose is found through belonging, and a wholehearted understanding and embrace of our authentic selves is required to find true belonging outside of oneself, then this is the path I choose. I am adopting “Belong To Yourself” as my guiding mantra for the new year. It’s a perfect offspring of the uncertainty and resiliency of 2020, looking ahead into the cautious optimism of 2021.
As a person who has already spent years cultivating practices of self awareness, it seems like this would be another easy and logical step in that journey. I already possess a pretty thorough academic knowledge of myself, and I can discuss and dissect my thoughts and behaviors in great detail, so embracing that should be pretty simple!
But “Belong To Yourself” goes deeper than simply being cognizant of who you are. In my reading about true belonging, four pillars stood out to me as being crucial to cultivating this mindset:
- Attunement – the inner awareness of our feelings, needs, thoughts, and experiences
- Authenticity – the conviction and courage to be honest, imperfect, and vulnerable
- Boundaries – the agency and empowerment to define your sense of self
- Compassion – the patience and grace with yourself as you navigate your life
These pillars contain self-awareness, to be sure, but also the ability to be raw and real even when the situation is unknown or intimidating. The ability to define where you end and others begin, to say no or yes to something and stand behind that decision, in full alignment with yourself. The ability to show up as less than perfect, to fall, to get up, and to fall again, and yet keep showing up without compromise. The courage to drop the armor, and the defensiveness, and the pretense, and the second-guessing of what we think people want us to be, and instead arrive as who we are.
Embrace the Paradox
“You are only free when you realize you belong no place—you belong every place—no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”– Maya Angelou
The journey of belonging is full of paradoxes, not the least of which is the paradox of the journey itself. We become more capable of belonging to the greater human community, not by seeking something externally, but by becoming more aligned internally. We become more deeply present With others – Belonging Everywhere – when we can be more completely Alone with ourselves – Belonging Nowhere.
In the definition of true belonging, we find sacredness in both coming together and standing alone, as long as we do so as our authentic, wholehearted self. Though I don’t identify as religious, I believe it is exactly this sacredness that has been missing from my life, deflating it of purpose as I went through my daily motions of “correct” or “productive” behaviors. Carl Jung posits that “the paradox is one of our most valued spiritual possessions,” and I am ready to embrace the paradox of Belonging To Yourself as we all move forward into the next unpredictable year.
The global pandemic has offered us all a rare chance to slow down, move purposefully, and become attuned with who we are. I hope that some of you out there can choose to embrace the paradoxes in your life as well, as we all look forward to the day we can Belong together again.