Believe Me: You Are Not Inadequate

14 May

by Morgan McDaniel

“I never feel good enough,” my classmate said. “I always feel like my friends are doing more impressive things than I am.  No matter what I do, I always feel inadequate.”

It was the last session of class for the semester, and the tone had become intimate and confessional. The professor nodded.  “Okay. Who else feels that way?”

I raised my hand and timidly looked around me.  The class was mostly women, including ones I greatly admired – women I had compared myself to before raising my hand.  Every single hand was raised.

At that moment, I felt both huge relief and deep sadness.  Relief in realizing that I wasn’t alone, and sadness that so many others must feel the same overwhelming pressures that I did to meet an unreachable standard.

The second semester of my junior year, coming back from a semester abroad and feeling isolated, I found myself caught in a spiral of self-doubt and self-blame. I was overwhelmed by the feeling that, despite my internships, past leadership positions, and an impressive GPA, I had already failed myself.

I felt worthless.  The self-confidence I had carried without a second thought, back home in high school when I was a big fish in a little pond, crumbled.  Any accomplishments I made quickly seemed trivial compared to what everyone else was doing.  If I were good enough, I would be the president of some organization, preferably one I had started myself.  I would have my academic work published. I would have a Facebook-photogenic group of friends who went out together every night and did fun, cultural things on Sunday afternoons in the spring.  I would run half-marathons.  I would be working too hard to get enough sleep, but it wouldn’t matter because of how engaged and passionate I would be.

I tried to ignore the feeling and make it go away.  But that just made me feel worse, because of course it didn’t go away.  It made me unmotivated, unable to command the energy to take on new projects, and so I hated myself for sleeping eight hours a night and numbly watching TV instead of “being productive.” Some nights, the despair went so deep that it was all I could do to call my mother at two AM, sobbing without a reason – sitting on the cold tiles on the bathroom floor with the door shut, so my roommate wouldn’t know.  By the time I realized there was a word for what I was feeling – depression – the semester was over and it was time to pack up.

Only too late did I find out how many people feel this way, even though no one talks about it. It shocked me to realize that I wasn’t the only one going through this, that even the peers I admired most felt inadequate, that the façade I measured myself against ruthlessly and mercilessly didn’t actually exist.  In real life and on the internet, we’re plagued by the Facebook effect.  Everyone’s accomplishments are public but their insecurities are invisible.  It creates a vicious cycle.  We are all fueled by each other’s successes, trying to race against a receding horizon we cannot reach, which just makes us feel less worthy.

It seems as though this internal, destructive drive towards perfection is more of a female phenomenon.  Granted, maybe it’s because I’ve mostly spoken with women about it, and this isn’t to say that men on this campus don’t suffer from anxiety, depression, and the overwhelming pressure to achieve, because they do.  But it’s women who are taught to be pleasers from day one, and it’s women who somehow are never able to say no. Courtney Martin captures this in her book, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, in a quote that gave me chills the first time I read it:

We are the girls with anxiety disorders, filled appointment books, five-year plans. We take ourselves very, very seriously. We are the peacemakers, the do-gooders, the givers, the savers. We are on time, overly prepared, well read, and witty, intellectually curious, always moving…We pride ourselves on getting as little sleep as possible and thrive on self-deprivation…We are relentless, judgmental with ourselves, and forgiving to others…We are the daughters of the feminists who said “You can be anything” and we heard “You have to be everything.”

Speaking to more women on campus, I’ve realized how closely their experiences mirror mine.  Yes, we understand that people need to take time for self-care – to sleep, eat well, take time for themselves to relax when the stress is too high – but that’s something other people need to do, not us.  If we were as strong as we pushed ourselves to be, we could keep going.  Instead, we drink too much and walk home from yet another guy’s house in the morning.*  We hope no one notices how many meals we skip or how much time we spend at the gym.  But we still don’t live up to the standard, and it doesn’t make us feel better about ourselves.

We need help, but we don’t know how to ask.  The reason I never asked my friends for help wasn’t because I was afraid they would say no.  I do think that we want to care for each other, and the spirit of community service extends to those closest to us.  That wasn’t it.  It was because I didn’t feel I could ask, when they all were so busy with such impressive, important things.  I didn’t want to be a drag or a buzz kill, and I didn’t want them to think I couldn’t handle the pressure.

We need to talk about this. It’s hard to ask for help because that means we have failed at the basic goal we have aspired to for years – self-sufficient, effortless perfection.  Asking for help, and accepting that it is okay to do so, means rejecting that framework entirely, and accepting that we can be valuable people, worthy of love and friendship, even if we didn’t score the internship or win the election or get the A.  It’s incredibly hard to do, and I wrestle with it every day.

We are already accomplished and compassionate social justice leaders – we know how to be kind to others.  We need to be kinder to ourselves.


*This is not to say that drinking alcohol or having casual sex is inherently bad or unhealthy.  Personal context is key.


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79 Responses to “Believe Me: You Are Not Inadequate”

  1. Lidiya May 19, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

    Wonderful post!
    I found a lot of my characteristics as well.

    I am a student now and have to live with roommates (girls). They are friends of mine but if I have to be honest, they aren’t the best role models. They lack the enthusiasm, haven’t set any goals, don’t thing big and so on. And I can surely say that the only thing that helped me not to be influenced by them (because one of them is constantly depressed, just stays at home all day and has no motivation at all) was my desire to be as productive as I can. I still wasted a lot of time and could have done much better, but never left my belief that I can achieve what I want.
    I love writign and that’s what I want to do, so I did it when no one was bothering me. I went to the gym almost every day. I took a course for the next level in Italian (because I love that language). I started my blog, now I’m trying to popularize it and learn all I can about SEO.
    And actually my mother was the only person who supported me, believed in me and listened to me. The point I wanted to make is that the thing that helped me get out there and that keeps me motivated is my constant desire for self-improvement and productivity.

    Thank you for writing that post. It’s very inspirational.
    Best, Lidiya

  2. Cas May 20, 2013 at 1:56 am #

    Reblogged this on stumbling and lost.

  3. faithrivada May 20, 2013 at 2:08 pm #


  4. moodsnmoments May 20, 2013 at 6:56 pm #

    powerful and honest! you are courageous to say it out loud as many of us wouldnt even accept so. your post is therapeutic to many who feel worthless though in reality, even they dont know how precious they are. am sure by now you would know that you are so impressive as you’ve left a shining mark in all of us.
    thanks and congratulations!

  5. pennypinchingpeach May 20, 2013 at 10:21 pm #

    I think all of us feel inadequate at one time or another. The horrible thing is when we feel inadequate day in and day out, without hope of ever reaching our own impossibly high standard of what is adequate. I think it’s worse on folks who have the ability to be high achievers, honestly. We know we can do many things, but expect that we can do everything perfectly. It’s not possible- for anyone.

  6. Jonathan Caswell May 21, 2013 at 12:10 am #

    Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:

  7. estherbayiga May 22, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

    Reblogged this on estherbayiga and commented:
    Been feeling a bit like this of late so reading this came in handy.It helps when i chat over lunch with one of my friends.. Finding some one that also feels that way and can relate with how i feel has been very helpful! That phase usually comes because am overly ambitious. I constantly need to remember that even if i can be anything, I don’t have to be everything! & Yes, 1 step at a time girl, 1 step at a time! I am not inadequate!

  8. bstarbee May 22, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

    Well said. Thank you.

  9. Sknudson May 24, 2013 at 4:18 am #

    I really thought I was the only one who felt like this…..who just felt ordinary and whose biggest fear was living a mediocre life. It feels a little better knowing I’m not alone. Thank you!

  10. theantileslie May 24, 2013 at 6:13 am #

    Thank you for such a lovely time curled up with my laptop and coffee. Hope you’ll visit me in return and find something you like equally well:

  11. tala703 May 24, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

    Mentioned you on my blog post: Thank you for this post, it touched a chord 🙂

  12. Hitchiking Colorado May 24, 2013 at 7:18 pm #

    Very true, wish that my x had read this!

  13. Minty May 24, 2013 at 7:58 pm #

    excellent! something that i’m sure many of us feel from time to time. i’ll be coming back to re-read this again.

  14. sleepbeforesunrise May 25, 2013 at 7:18 am #

    i loved this.
    i wonder if more of us would be more open about our insecurities if a lot of these negative internal feelings would lessen. maybe then, we wouldn’t have to feel alone by keeping things to ourselves, and instead could relate with each other… feel more like equals, because no matter what anyone has or doesn’t have in life, basically we all just want happiness, i think

  15. Qwetu Elements. May 28, 2013 at 7:56 am # Thank you for your support

  16. EmSpeaks May 29, 2013 at 6:43 pm #

    Reblogged this on Em Speaks and commented:
    Same here.

  17. MsVeronicaM May 31, 2013 at 1:26 am #

    Great read. I can definitely relate.

  18. Supritha Maiya May 31, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

    The post is very well written and captures everything about that dark phase.The confusion,the numerous let-downs and that harsh scale of self-esteem.It’s all there in the words.An excellent post.

  19. xtremelust June 3, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

    Reblogged this on xtremelust.

  20. allydavis2013 June 4, 2013 at 4:01 pm #

    Hi! We really love your blog and would like to extend an invitation to guest blog for our site

  21. EHGreenaway June 10, 2013 at 8:35 pm #

    I just want you to know this post means a lot to me, thank you so much.

  22. floeticrandilyn June 21, 2013 at 5:18 am #

    Reblogged this on You are safe here! .

  23. jak2kinase July 2, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

    Reblogged this on Of Love and Life.


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