Journaling is one of those things that I’ve always known I needed to do but rarely set aside the time for. Recently, I picked up the practice and have found it really helpful for processing my thoughts and winding down at the end of the day. One benefit of journaling is that you can read back through your entries and identify patterns in your thinking that you may not have been aware of before.
The pattern that I’m noticing in my own mind is a constant rumination over the question of whether or not I’m getting enough done. As a task-oriented person, I get a good deal of joy out of crossing items off of my to-do list. But often, I look over my list at the end of the day, see all the things I have left to do, and wonder, “Did I do enough today?”
If I’m being honest, the answer usually feels like a no. The fact that I’m asking the question at all means that I’m doubting myself and my accomplishments enough to at least consider that they’re insufficient. And the recurring nature of the question indicates an unresolved pattern. It actually feels less like, “Am I doing enough?” and more like, “I’m not doing enough.”
The funny thing is that I actually do a lot in a given day. Between staying on top of my ministry work, taking care of things at home, working with clients on my side hustles, and writing for this blog, I get quite a bit done each and every day. I have to if I want to avoid getting behind, something I’ve actually been successful at. I’m not drowning or failing; I’m actually doing quite well. So why do I keep questioning it?
I have to imagine I’m not alone, even if it’s just to make myself feel better. Maybe I’m the only one suffering form this neurosis, but in case I’m not, I thought it might be a good topic to write about. Because feeling like you aren’t doing enough isn’t any fun, and I’ve been thinking a lot about where that struggle comes from.
If you grapple with this question yourself, or know someone who does, this one’s for you. Here’s why I think we struggle so much to feel like we’re doing enough.
Life is demanding.
One of my favorite lines from Boy Meets World is the response Eric Matthews gives his younger brother Cory one day when he comes home complaining about his many woes. Eric hears Cory out, pauses thoughtfully, and then suddenly smacks Cory on the head yelling, “Life’s tough; get a helmet!”
That line has stuck with me since I first heard it as a kid. And although it’s meant to be humorous, there’s also an element of truth to it. One of the realities we learn when we become adults is that life is hard for each of us in different ways (and, admittedly, to different degrees). We each have our burdens to bear, and they can get to the point where they really weigh on us.
We each experience external pressures as we navigate the world. Maybe it’s a boss who’s always on your case. Or a significant other needing more of your time and attention. Or the bills piling up on your table with due dates approaching like ticking time bombs. Whatever it is, we feel that pressure pushing in on us day in and day out. And it’s a lot.
They say that life is more demanding now than it used to be. I can’t say for sure because I’m young, so this is all I’ve ever known. But I do know that we work more days out of the year than medieval peasants did. And that anxiety is on the rise. And that our schedules (and our kids’ schedules) are fuller than they’ve ever been. And that just making enough money to survive—let alone thrive—is getting harder and harder to do.
Life asks a lot of us. We each spend the majority of our days just trying to do enough to keep life at bay. And when those demands get to be too much, it can make us feel like we aren’t doing enough.
We are way too hard on ourselves.
But it isn’t just life that demands a lot of us. We demand a lot of ourselves, and that contributes to this feeling, too.
When I was in kindergarten, I brought home my first report card. I showed it to my parents, and they were thrilled to find that I was doing well in school. But I was displeased. When they asked me why I was upset, I responded, “The card has all A’s on it. I wanted A+’s.”
If you think I’ve let up on myself even a little bit since I was five years old, you would be mistaken. No matter what I’m doing, I push myself to be not only the best that I can be, but simply the best. In my mind, if I’m not absolutely excelling at something, I’m not doing well enough.
We talked earlier about that external pressure we feel and the way that it contributes to our feelings of inadequacy. But often, the pressure we feel isn’t coming from other people, or even from life circumstances. It’s coming from us. We take that pressure the world throws at us, and we internalize it. We put it on ourselves.
No one else has to remind you that you’re behind on that project at work, or that you’re $30 short on your electric bill, or that you haven’t visited your sister in three weeks. You remind yourself of that, constantly and relentlessly. You beat yourself up about it because you think that’s going to help you improve. But the truth is that it does just the opposite.
When we put too much pressure on ourselves, we eventually crumble under the sheer weight of it all. Life is going to be stressful no matter what we do, but if we compound that problem by depriving ourselves of internal peace, we severely limit our chances of success. Our attitudes, outlooks, and self-concepts are key to overcoming the obstacles we face in life. If they’re not positive, how can we be?
We don’t know when to say, “Enough is enough.”
You know how people say, “Never take your work home with you”? Yeah, I’m no good at that. My brain doesn’t have compartments. It is just one giant ball of tasks, questions, goals, reflections, dreams, and obscure pop culture references. I don’t know how to turn it off, and it never seems satisfied.
In school, we’re taught the very helpful concept of a “stopping point.” You work until you get to a place where you’ve accomplished a significant amount and can easily pick it up again later, and then you stop. That way, you walk away feeling successful and don’t have to worry about it again until later.
I wonder if we’d do well to re-learn the stopping point concept and apply it in our everyday lives. Is it possible that we can simultaneously give ourselves credit for what we’ve done and acknowledge that there’s more we need to do later? It worked for us in school. Why not life in general?
I understand that it’s hard. Deadlines are always looming. And our brains don’t want to stop in the middle of a task; they want to follow it through. But what if the stopping point is the end of the task and the rest—the next task—can wait until tomorrow? Could that simple reframing possibly be enough to put our minds at ease?
How much more would we be able to enjoy our time with our loved ones if we weren’t constantly thinking about the next thing we need to get done at work? Would we sleep deeper if we didn’t have to go through the mental checklist every night before drifting off? And could our work actually be improved if we approached it with fresh eyes each day rather than never getting any mental time away from it? I think it’s very possible.
I’m still working through all of this and trying to get better at it myself. But I do know this: When I give myself credit for my accomplishments and create stopping points to separate my work from the rest of my life, I breathe a little easier. I’m more present with my family. I’m happier. Because I’m not constantly worrying that I haven’t done enough.
So if you’re struggling with this, too, here’s my suggestion: Stop reading this blog and get back to work. And once you get to a logical stopping point, stop. Breathe. Tell yourself, “I have done enough.” And walk way, putting it out of your mind until it’s time to actually start the work again. You won’t believe what a difference these small steps can make.
No one can do it all. For some of us, it never feels like we’re doing enough. But the truth is that we are, and we would do well to internalize that truth. It’s the only way we’ll be able to perform our best and be fully present with those we love in times of recreation and rest. I’m doing my best to internalize that truth in my life, and I hope you will, too.
Thanks for reading this week’s article! If you struggle with feeling like you’re doing enough, I’d be interested to hear what you’re doing to overcome that. And if you found anything I said this week to be helpful in your own process, I’d love to know! That’s what this space is all about.
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