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“I’m just not enough”

I have had two conversations this week wherein the phrase, “I’m just not enough” featured heavily. Not coincidently, both conversations were with Third Culture Kids, people who spent their childhoods abroad, raised betwixt and between cultural worlds.

Third Culture Kids frequently grow up developing the ability to fit into multiple cultural scenarios, lithely adapting their shape to their new environments. Like the chameleon they mimic, however, they rarely fully ‘disappear’ into their landscapes. They are gifted in camouflage and yet, like Harry Potter under his invisibility cloak, they can still bump into people and things, and the sound of their voices are not completely muffled by the magic that hides them. And so they don’t quite blend in. They don’t quite fit. They aren’t quite enough.

The British Nigerian isn’t Nigerian enough for Nigerians and he isn’t British enough for the British. If their ethnicity is ‘right’, then their accent is ‘wrong’. If their accent is ‘right’, their cultural norms are ‘wrong’. At some point, their hybridity betrays them, and their difference begins to leak out from beneath their cloak.

However, this “I’m not enough” feeling may spread beyond the boundaries of nationality. We have witnessed many lifestyles, noted many different ways of doing life, parenthood, friendships, relationships. While we might experience not feeling ‘enough’ in terms of belonging to our passport (or host country) peers, we might also feel ‘not enough’ as a parent, a businessman/woman, artist, author, friend… the list could (and does) go on. To risk literary pluralism, we feel like “too little butter spread over too much bread” (Thanks, Tolkien).

Whatever we do, however well we fulfill the expectations of one set of cultural or group demands, another group protests we aren’t ‘enough’. Or maybe they don’t. Out loud. Rather our mixed up set of internal allegiances compete for our attention, pulling us this way and that in our values, behaviours, and even our beliefs.

The cure? Well, there are two. The first sees us disconnect as completely as we can from all of the identities that summon us, and disregard the pull to people-please, living instead as autonomous a life as possible. It’s a cure of sorts, but it’s lonely.

The second cure? This one is my favourite. We set aside some time to work out our own ‘enough’… but this time, instead of discarding our identities, past and present, we ground ourselves in them. We root ourselves, using these competing values and expectations as stepping-stones to construct a self that is Enough. We discard elements that are no longer serving growth, and prune and nourish others back to health. We decide what enough actually means for us.

Crucially, we need to decide what we are enough FOR. We will always feel like too little butter for too much bread when we have too much bread on our plates!

Maybe this is you… maybe you are feeling ‘not enough’ right now. Trust me, you are Enough. But if you need a hand working out what you are enough for… get in touch. I’d love to walk with you as you navigate this next piece of your journey.

2 comments

  1. Dan Elyea says:

    Interesting concepts, and very well-written, Dr. Rachel. In The Hobbit, one of the dwarfs says, “We don’t belong anywhere!” Cue up wry smile. (T’was in the context of having been asked where their home was.)

    Dan

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