I’ve spent the last three years researching and writing a book called Burnout. My goal was to help women who feel overwhelmed and exhausted by everything they have to do and yet still worry that they’re not doing “enough.” What I learned in that process contradicted all the standard advice in the self-help books I’ve read. And it changed my life.
But the book isn’t coming out until next year, and midterm elections and the Mueller investigation are happening right now, so I want to offer you this one important thing I learned, that contradicted the standard narratives of “self-help.”
Here it is:
Feeling like you’re “not enough” is a form of loneliness.
That means the cure to feeling “not enough” is not to “tell yourself” you are enough; if you’re the one telling you you’re enough, you’re still alone, isolated. “Telling yourself” anything rarely does what you need it to do.
Instead, the cure is to connect with your people.
The project of changing the world is bigger than any of us can accomplish on our own. Each of us is standing on at the edge of the ocean with a bucket in our hands, trying to move the shore one bucketful at a time. It won’t take very long before we start to feel swamped by the enormity of the task before us and by our own smallness in the face of that task.
But then we look to our right and see all the people there with us, with their buckets. We look to our left and see even more people with their buckets.
(Voting is a bucket of sand. Talking — passionately and compassionately — with people you care about and disagree with is a bucket of sand. Educating yourself is a bucket of sand. It might help you to make a list of all the ways you contribute, no matter how small.)
Our “enoughness” derives not from our individual efforts, but from our shared participation in something larger than ourselves. Your labor is enough not because you by yourself can make the world what you want it to be, but because your labor happens in connection with the labor of others.
When you feel like you’re not enough, connect with your people.
Call or text or email a friend. Just say hi. Just get together and eat something delicious. Just snuggle.
Go to a meeting of your people — whether it’s a political organizing event or a religious service or a game of Dungeons and Dragons — and just be with your people, working toward a shared goal.
Or read a book, watch a movie, or play a game that reminds you of the ways humans work together and make the world better.
(It might help you to make a list of the people, places, books, movies, and game that help you remember that participating in something larger than yourself creates real change.)
It’s bad out there. The world needs you to stay well, so that you can stay in the fight. “Self-care” has been getting some well-deserved flak as a neoliberal scam to make individuals responsible for the damage done to them by cultural forces. And the solution is that it’s not about “self” anything. It’s just care. All of us, caring for each other.
Work a little harder than feels comfortable, then connect with your people. That’s enough. You are enough.