“You are enough. You are enough. You are so enough.”
When I first heard these words every cell in my body rolled its eyes. Another stale mantra of self-love. Another flimsy, flowery incantation of personal empowerment. Next she’s going to say that she owes all her success to falling in love with herself, that she eliminated the word “can’t”, that her only competition was who she was yesterday, etc., etc., etc.
Sierra Boggess is responsible for these words, and if you didn’t know, she also happens to be a wildly successful musical theatre actor. She’s the girl Disney chose to be Ariel on Broadway (kind of a really big deal). She’s one of those hippie-love types, always sputtering these motivational mottos through a saccharine smile and perfectly aligned teeth with her hair magically waved while wearing a sexy racerback tank with Ganesh on it. Now it may seem like I’ve stalked this girl a bit, and I have. But not to hate, to learn. The hating just came on its own.
Like Sierra, I am a musical theatre actor. Naturally, I’ve obsessed over her because she has actually succeeded at what I have only dreamt about. I say naturally because all actors do this. I’m willing to bet all creative types do this. I would go so far as anyone who’s ever had a dream has done this. The urge to compare ourselves to those who have actually accomplished what we desire most is undeniably powerful. And of course! We want what they have. Perhaps they have something to teach us. Perhaps they could reaffirm that the struggle will be worth it.
But Sierra telling me that she cannot give me either of those things because I am simply “enough” as I am right now didn’t pump me up with hot, airy inspiration. It made me bitter, made me see how jaded I was. Because I’m sick of people telling me I’m enough. I’m obviously not enough. If I was enough, I’d be Sierra Boggess.
Typing this out loud makes it sound as ridiculous as it is. But it still doesn’t stop the rumbling, “Is it that she’s prettier? Is she more talented? Is she more likable, or friendly, or charming? Maybe it’s that she’s just plain luckier. God I hope it’s not that, I can’t do anything about that.”
We’ve all wallowed is the self-loathing of comparison, and it’s sort of ruining our lives.
Recently I decided to stop denying (taking my own advice) to face this. I came out the other end saying, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be,” with a zen-like monotony, using ancient wisdom as an anesthetic for the pain. Because it hurts to compare. When you compare, one has to come out being lesser. That will always be you. (Unless you’re doing the, “I’m better than her,” thing, because that’s just rebuilding the part of your ego that just got knocked down.)
And it’s important to recognize this as the ego. (“Ah! The ego! Why must all of this always be so damn psychological, so damn Buddhist all the time? I am me, not some puffy spiritual saint squatting in a body, battling a little hunchbacked man named Ego.”) It’s hard to separate ourselves from our egos, it’s harder to understand the difference at all. But your ego is the thing that says “me” and the Self is the thing that says “we”. (I’m also a poet. But really.) Basically what that means is that all those self-obsessed parts of ourselves belong to our egos. They’re the things we generally don’t like about ourselves. No one hates how forgiving or compassionate or peaceful she is, the traits which connect us openly with the world. We hate how self-serving, insecure, and stubborn we are, the traits which close us off from it.
So the ego clutches to the comparison, it needs the hope that it can grow to those heights it’s imagined for itself. It needs a goal. Because it needs to live in the reality it can visualize. (For me, being Sierra.) Anything outside that is mysterious, and of course kind of terrifying to the me-obsessed ego. (Ego likes to know, Self likes to grow. God, I’m winning at this.)
Then, something so simple catapulted me into a glorious, ego-less moment. During an important lesson to prepare for an audition for one of those coveted Sierra roles, I was putting myself down and admitted that I had already assumed failure (because that’s safer for the ego than the pain of failing, too). My teacher frustratedly said, “You can do this. Not to say it to make you feel better, but because you know you can. What have the last 6 years been for if not to prepare you for this?”
I went home thinking, “God I suck. He’s right. 6 years and where am I?” And then I came across, super synchronistically, a Hugh Laurie quote: “It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. . . . There’s only now. . . . Now is as good a time as any.”
And it hit me that that was what my teacher meant. He meant I’m ready—and of course I am. I’ve been training to be able to do this thing that I love with grace and passion and skill since I was a girl. I was struck by the fact that all these years and I’ve never had that thought. I had to say it aloud to make it real: “I’m ready, I’m ready.”
And ready for what? Most of us (thanks, ego!) are ready to be wildly successful and famous and whatever. And it’s not that that’s unrealistic. It’s more realistic than ever. It’s just not the fulfilling thing we think it’s going to be. Trust me. Read any celebrity’s memoirs.
What I’m ready to do is live my purpose.
All my life I’ve had this Purpose. You may have one, too. It said, “You will be like Sierra Boggess (that awful bitch).” It’s a part of the ego, staking his (and I mean his, my ego is essentially the Brain as in Pinky and . . . for all my millenials) flag in that imagined goal and naming it the grandest thing: My Purpose. But the enormous weight of it has compressed me into this small, self-doubting nothing.
And then the sentence finally appeared, in a real lightbulb moment: This is not my Purpose, this gives me purpose. Oh Lord, what a difference a capital makes. When something gives you purpose, it is there to serve you, to express the awesomeness inside you, to bring you and your Self closer to fulfillment; but you are not tied to it. When you have a Purpose, it is locked in one position, inflexible, often literally impossible. I cannot be Sierra Boggess. But I can share her passion and talent for what we both love.
When you learn to see comparing yourself as the ego drowning in its own watery expectations, as the deflection of the pain of failing that Purpose, you can begin to let it go, and then make a change. The ego is not a little hunchbacked man, but he is desperately trying to have you succeed and simultaneously protect you from the pain. And frankly, it’s backfiring.
Okay, Sierra, I guess I am enough, I’m enough, I’m so enough. I went the long way, girl, but I got there. And being enough feels pretty incredible. It makes me feel liberated, impassioned, just—happy. (I know, eye-roll.) But most unexpectedly glorious of all, it makes me feel excited for all the non-Sierra things I’m going to do. I’m ready to do incredible things, as me.
Photo by Chris Hays Photography