Several weeks ago, we invited five couples over for dinner at our new house. It was a wonderful evening. After showing off our home and receiving all kinds of accolades, we found ourselves, four hours later, still at the dinner table engaged in active conversation. That’s when one guest turned to me and said, “Now that you’ve completed the house, what’s next?”
I thought about it, but nothing came to mind. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have a long list of projects I needed to, had to or wanted to complete. I suspect that I could have said, “Write this book I’ve been halfheartedly working on for the last year or finish up organizing the things in the garage we brought with us solely because we found them difficult to part with.” There are, of course, still things I’d like to accomplish, but none of them are any longer earth shattering or necessary in order for me to feel OK.
It’s noteworthy that the person, who questioned my future plans, knows that I’ve lived my life driven by projects, each one gnawing in my gut and pushing me to complete it in order for me to feel adequate and deserving. But, for the first time that I can recall, I don’t feel pressured. I’m finally at a point where most everything is “genug.” It’s a Yiddish word that means, “it’s enough.” It’s what I imagine G-d must have felt after creating the world. At the end of six days, he looked down on his creation and said, “It’s genug.” He didn’t mean it was perfect or without problems. It just meant he was content enough to rest on the seventh day. In a similar fashion, I’m aware that neither I, nor my world, are without fault; but they’re enough.
I thought, “It must be my age.” You reach a certain point in your life where things don’t matter as much as they used to, and you settle. After giving it second thought, however, I dismissed that notion. I know too many contemporaries who, despite their accomplishments, still are neurotically striving to accept themselves.
I’m very familiar with that behavior. Throughout my life, every mountain I climbed was going to contribute to my feeling sufficient and adequate, but they were never enough. There was always another mountain that needed climbing. I now recognize that, even as a youth, I never felt strong, smart, lovable or talented enough to cause me to feel I was genug.
It hurt to live that way, so I tried to squelch the pain by eating. At one point I reached 250 pounds, on a 5-foot-8 frame, with a 44- or 45-inch waist. That’s when I asked myself a question I have since asked a multitude of my patients; “How many carbohydrates do you have to eat in one day to meet your daily requirements for protein?”
After pondering the question, most of them eventually realize the answer is zero. No matter how many carbohydrates you devour, it won’t satisfy your need for protein. It’s the same for mountains you climb or money and possessions you acquire. You can’t accumulate enough to make you feel OK. They aren’t the same.
I’ve always realized that when it came to patients, but somehow I lost sight of it when it applied to me. Heretofore, my script was, “I’m only as good as my last magic trick.” Today, I’m beginning to feel I don’t need any new tricks, and I like that feeling. It’s a new phenomenon. You see, I grew up in a home where my father worked all the time. I now realize it was because he felt inadequate and desperately needed to be loved by others, because he didn’t love himself. It didn’t help that he was married to a woman for whom nothing was ever good enough. She was a depressed person whose glass was always half-empty.
Sadly, I came away with both their outlooks. I was driven and nothing ever was enough until, possibly now. I feel as though I’ve shed a very heavy burden. It’s not that I’m unrealistically happy or think that everything is perfect; instead, everything is finally genug. I’ve never before been able to say that. Come to think about it, growing up, the only time I ever heard the word was when it was used threateningly, as in “that’s enough.”
The thought of that makes me sad and, what is worse is, I know I’m not alone. Last week, I went to the theater to see a fabulous play, “An Evening with Janis Joplin.” If you’re not familiar with her, she was an extraordinarily talented entertainer, who was considered one of the premier female blues vocalists during the 1960s.
Unfortunately, she died of a drug overdose in 1970 at the age of 27. Probably, it was because she also failed to realize that she was “enough.” She, along with a host of other accomplished artists, such as Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, etc., are members of the 27 club; a group of extremely talented musicians, who also died at the age of 27.
It causes me to think of the myriad of depressed persons I’ve seen over the years, who, no matter how successful, attractive, accomplished or talented they were, ever saw themselves as “enough.” None of them fully experienced satisfaction with themselves or the world around them. Similar to Janis Joplin, most of them, though driven to succeed, never realized that they were already “enough” and had something of significant value to share with others.
How do you get there? If you’re fortunate, you learn it during childhood. If not, you have to learn it later. Go to therapy; trust your own good judgment; behave in accordance with what you feel is right; be kind to you and considerate of others. Then, share this new you with your spouse, children and friends.
Your goal needs to be to first help yourself to feel you’re enough, so that you can assist others to avoid spending their lives depressed, feeling insufficient or constantly driven to climb to new heights. On the outside, that won’t provide them the sense of adequacy they’re lacking and desperately searching for.
You need to give them the assurance that they’re loved because they have inner worth and to instill in them a feeling of self-satisfaction, so they won’t have to eat, drink, drug or live excessively. All because they know they’re “genug.”