The Not Good Enough Lie

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The Not Good Enough Lie

When I’m not working with clients and blogging here, I am a photographer. As a photographer, I have always wanted my camera to be more of a consistent part of my life. I know some photographers that share their images all the time. They carry their cameras with them and capture life in beautiful ways. Though I do carry my camera with me often, I haven’t ever shared images that freely.

As I have wondered about this, I have realized that it’s mostly because I feel like they’re not good enough. I feel like a lot of my photos are boring. Sometimes they are fantastic, but many of them feel… ordinary.

There’s a cycle that comes into play here: the problem with not sharing more photos is that I then don’t take more photos (why take them if I never use them?). And by not taking more, I’m missing the chance to make a lot of beautiful images and the chance to continue to improve. I would be a better photographer today if I made more images. I’d be learning faster and stretching further.

Though it feels different than other creative blocks, it has the same root: I feel like I don’t have anything to create that anyone would want to see. It feels like the things I make aren’t good enough to be worth your time and attention, so I don’t make them at all.

The fear of making bad photos is one thing, but the fear of making things that just aren’t good enough is even trickier. I know the things I make aren’t “bad”. If they were bad, then I could fix that (I’d learn more and practice until they’re “not bad”). Not “good enough” is more difficult to manage. There’s no clear plan of attack— mostly because the struggle is internal. My default response to this is much worse (and more sinister): I don’t bother creating.

I wonder how often the lie that what we have to do, say, make, or create is “not good enough” keeps us from taking action.

I wonder how often we value being really great over taking the risk to just try and see what happens.

You’ll never make amazing things unless you start by making SOMEthing.[Tweet that]

You may never have exactly the right tools, the right skills, the right words, but you always have the chance to create in spite of all of that.

So here’s to making because it matters. Here’s to quantity over quality. Here’s to doing your work in spite of the resistance that you feel.

In the comments, what has been your experience with feeling “not good enough”? How have you found ways around or through it? What are the better stories that you’ve learned to tell? Click here to add your voice.

Dan Cumberland is on a mission to push you into the places meaning, life, & work intersect. He is the author of The Meaning Manifesto. Read more about him here, and connect with him on facebook and twitter.

There Are 12 Comments On This Post.

  1. I’m really interested in getting into public speaking. And I’m also really really not interested because it scares me. Because I feel like I’m not good enough. It’s not something I’m great at, for sure, because it’s new for me. But when I hear that “not good enough” feeling and my fear making plans against me, I always think of one of my favorite authors who I saw speak early on in his career over eight years ago. He literally read from a book the whole time, and you could tell he just wasn’t comfortable. (Maybe he thought he wasn’t “good enough”?) However, now, eight years later, he’s one of the most engaging speakers I’ve ever seen. And I think that’s because of what you said—he started with SOMEthing. Even if it was just reading from his book, he got out there, let the butterflies go crazy, and started something. And so, in moments when I don’t feel like I’m “good enough” yet (it’s often followed by that 3 letter word), I always look back to that example and remind myself that believing that I’m not good enough won’t get me anywhere or get any better—only starting will.

    • I love this Lacy! Thanks for your honesty. I, for one, can’t wait to hear you speak. Your fear is important, push into it. You have so many good things to say!

  2. nana brenyah

    This has been one of my obstacles, I am writer and I know deep down in my heart I want to be an author, I want to write books, movies, plays, games and I want to act but I always feel like I don’t have the right skills and the right education for it so whenever I write I save it on my computer and that will be the end of it. Lately, I have been sharing my writings with my co- workers and other people just for the fun of it, I use to think people would look down on my writing or just not like it. I think I may have been wrong because ever since I started sharing all I get is good reviews and people telling me to develop my skills, I can say for now I have written and directed two plays locally and I’ m working on my book. I also realized that whenever I’m writing and I think about what other people will think of me, I can never complete my writings, it is like I lose all my inspiration basically so now I have learned to not care about what others might think I mean the worse thing they would say is that was horrible but who cares at least I wrote something hahaha. Thanks for the advice now I feel like I’m not the only person who feels like this.

    • Hi Nana! Thanks so much for reading and sharing. I love your story here. I resonate with it on so many levels, and I’m so glad that you took the risk of sharing your words with people around you. You’re definitely not alone in the struggle!

  3. This is something that I need to hear. And continually remind myself. Thank you for reminding me.

  4. Oh wow! Yes, here’s to quantity! Haha!

    I so recognize myself in your words, Dan, I know I’m not bad at the things I do, but am I good enough? Sometimes this takes on hillarious proportions, like when I sew something for another as a gift yet thinking they will only use it out of obligation or be a bit embarrassed on my behalf for not staying away from creativity. Then, more often than ever not, they love the gift and are rather impressed. And when I see that in their eyes, I realize I yet again worked up a worry for no reason what so ever and luckily end up lovingly laughing at myself. It is however amazing to what depths the fearful uncertainty goes.

    • Thanks Anna! The example you shared feels so familiar to ways that I have experienced this as well. We’re in this together!

  5. Thanks for your reply, Dan =) Here’s to lovingly laugh at/with ourselves!

    And I’m also thinking, good enough….for what and whom? Who decides what’s enough?! Whom are we trying to please? What is success really? Who decides we’ve made it, anyway? Is it only other people’s envy or appreciation or, above all, fame – oh, the public recognizion! – that states we’re good enough? (Simply mattering deeply to our neighbour doesn’t seem as sexy but it prob what we’ll cherish in the long run.)

    As a nurse I’m very aware that a mistake can cause pain or death, or at least figurative hick-ups: the disruption of the system. Leaving out a detail eg on reporting or planning can cause another an hour of work or delay. So we strive for perfection and foster the thinking that perfection is the required minimum level, every day.
    I guess it is important to foster another way of thinking, that doing my best is subjective perfection and more than enough.

    • Hey Anna— your comment slipped by me :-0
      I love your processing here. “How do I define good enough?” is an important question for me to ask myself. Followed up by, “Who set that standard?” Typically there isn’t a clear level of good-enough-ness in my mind, which is all the more reason to fight against that voice.

  6. Laura

    Thanks for writing this article. My experience of not feeling good enough has been a continual one. Somewhere along the way I believed the lie that if I’m not as good as someone else at something then I just shouldn’t try it at all. I’ve acted upon this lie several times in my life… I dropped out of my high school band even though I love music because of what one person said, I didn’t study photography at uni but instead I pursued a career I detest because it was the ‘safe’ choice. I’ve never pursued the things I really love because if it I don’t then I can’t fail at them. I always really wanted to be a photographer but have been too scared to pursue it because I fear I won’t be good enough. I’m only starting to create again and pursue the things I love. Thanks for challenging that lie.

    • Hi Lara! Thanks for your thoughts. You’ve put words to so many struggles that we all have. You’re not alone in them! I’m glad to hear that you’re starting again. You have great things to create, and you have to start somewhere — even when that somewhere is not where you want to be.

      We’re rooting for you!

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