Happy New Year, everyone! After the very challenging year that was 2020, I hope that this year will bring hope, healing, growth, and new possibilities for all of us. Before I dive into the new blog content that I have in mind for 2021, I want to take some time to reflect back on my theme for 2020, which was “enough.” I had planned to post sooner, but the events of the past week and a half derailed my focus and concentration, as I’m sure it did for many other Americans (and potentially those in other countries as well).
I will be introducing my 2021 word/theme in a separate post, as one of the changes I’d like to make for this year is to publish shorter, more frequent posts (although this post is still quite lengthy – old habits die hard!). Hopefully this will make it easier for you to “consume” my writing and allow for a better flow of content, as well as more interaction for those who enjoy connecting with me and each other via the comments section. I lamented that I only published 20 essays last year (you can check them out via my archives), but I could have easily broken many of them down into two or three separate posts, so that’s what I’m going to try to do in 2021. Stay tuned for additional changes to the blog as the year gets under way.
In preparation for this update, I went back and read the post in which I introduced my “enough” theme (the last post of 2019), as well as all of the comments made by readers. The comments were so heartfelt and thought-provoking that I’ll share some of them at the end of this recap. I’ll also reflect upon my progress in fulfilling upon my “enough” theme in the key areas of my wardrobe, my home, and my self-concept.
Enough in the Closet
As I approached 2020, I felt that I owned more clothing than I needed and also bought too many items in light of the lifestyle that I was leading. I wanted to “slow my roll” with shopping and stop buying so many duplicate items that led to “splitting my wears.” My goal was to pare down my out-and-about wardrobe to 118-137 items, with the eventual objective of having 100 or fewer pieces in this area of my closet. I gave a full update on this and my other wardrobe goals in my last post, but I have a few more thoughts to share on this topic today.
My closet still feels too full and I wore even fewer out-and-about outfits last year than usual. Like many of you, I had almost no social engagements and when I left the house, it was usually to go for a walk or to run what had become stressful and hurried errands. I still want to pare down my out-and-about wardrobe further, but I’m going to hold off on doing any major overhauls until I have a better idea of what my life is going to look like after the pandemic (whenever that’s going to be!). I feel like I’ve been in a “holding pattern” for almost a year now and even though my previous life was still quite small, I didn’t expect what 2020 would have in store for the world (none of us did!).
The good news was that I did a lot of work on honing my at-home wardrobe last year and the bulk of the purchases that I made were for that section of my closet. I still bought too much, mostly because I have a tendency to do “stress shopping” – and 2020 was basically the definition of a stressful year! I also had trouble passing up all of the bargain basement sales that abounded in the retail landscape. It felt like Black Friday for months on end, which was difficult for this recovering shopaholic to resist. I’m not proud of how much I bought, but I am happy that I was able to stick to my out-and-about item limit. I was also pleased to sell many of my mistake purchases online, which is something that I plan to continue in the early months of this year.
I definitely have more than enough clothes at this point for what my life looks like now, so I want to focus on wearing and enjoying what I have. It’s my hope that I’ll only purchase new pieces as defined needs come up or when items wear out and need to be replaced, which has actually been happening more often lately. It’s a good sign that I’m wearing things often enough that they’re wearing out, as that rarely happened for me in the past. The items that are wearing out are in my at-home wardrobe, as that’s what I wear probably 95% of the time these days!
Enough in the Home
After buying our home in June 2018 and doing a lot of renovations over the first year and a half of living here, we wanted to slow down the home improvement and feel more content with what we have. We ended up doing only one major home project in 2020, adding a heating and cooling system, which was one of my “20 for 2020” goals. This project was completed on the day when the “shelter in place” order was initiated in California in March 2020 (which remains in effect ten months later!). My husband and I are very happy to have this system, as we had some very hot days last summer and some fairly cold nights this winter. The system works fast to cool or heat desired rooms within the house, so we’re always comfortable now.
My husband also installed heaters in both of our bathrooms a couple of months ago, which is another welcome improvement on cooler days and evenings. All other changes have been minor and we don’t have any other projects in mind, other than to do some decluttering, which I will share about in a future post. We’re very grateful for our cozy home, especially since we spend almost all of our time here now. I’m glad that we have more space, but we still would have been fine sheltering in place in our two-bedroom apartment. It’s safer to be in our own home now and not to have to cross paths with a lot of neighbors. We do see our neighbors when we walk around the complex, but of course it’s safer to interact with others outdoors.
Feeling Good Enough
The largest and most difficult part of my “enough” project related to my self-esteem and feeling like I am enough. I have long struggled with feeling like I’m not good enough and that nothing I did was sufficient. I compared myself relentlessly with others and almost always came up short in my estimation. I’ve suffered with painful insecurity since I was a child, especially around my appearance and my success – or lack thereof – in life.
As I wrote my initial post about my “enough” theme, I found myself feeling shame around my appearance related to menopause and aging. I felt frumpy and unstylish and I worried about becoming “invisible” as I edged deeper into my fifties (I’m now 54). I was also extremely embarrassed about my lack of a career and I often avoided social situations for fear of being asked the dreaded “What do you do?” question and not having a good answer. I had become a “closed book” with other people (except on the blog, of course, but most people I know either don’t know about the blog or don’t read it), including with my own family.
I was so tired of feeling all of the above and I wanted to learn to accept myself and stop feeling ashamed of who I am and like I needed to be different. I wanted to stop caring so much about what other people think and instead take pride in who I am, even if I don’t fit the societal definition of “success.” My most important goal for 2020 was to finally feel like I’m good enough and to gain a fundamental feeling of self-acceptance.
Progress on Feeling More “Good Enough”
I’m pleased to say that I have made a lot of progress toward this important and challenging goal. I started by making a conscious decision to stop being so mean to myself and to afford myself the type of grace that I readily give to other people. I began to realize that I often set unrealistic standards for myself that I don’t apply to those around me, which was a recipe for unhappiness. I have to recommit to being nicer to myself often, as I still fall into bad habits, but I’m doing a lot better with beating myself up less often.
As one example, in recent years, I have lamented that I no longer look as good in my fifties as I did when I was younger. I spent a lot of time freaking out about “losing my looks.” When I was talking about this with my husband one time (poor guy, he has to listen to a lot of my “ramblings”), he replied that no one looks as good when they’re middle-aged or older as they did when they were in their twenties or thirties. Although that was a very common-sense statement that I should have realized, for some reason it sunk in when he said it in such plain words.
After that, I started to notice that even celebrities don’t look as amazing in their fifties and older, despite whatever procedures they might undergo to try to stem the effects of time (and the fact that they “have people,” as my husband is always pointing out). Of course, many of them still look great, but they typically lose at least some of their youthful glow, which is completely normal. Not long ago, I re-watched “Pretty Woman,” which is one of my favorite movies (yes, it’s corny, but what can I say?). Both Julia Roberts and Richard Gere were at the prime of their attractiveness when that movie was filmed (of course it’s not fair that he was about 40 and she was in her early twenties!). They’re both still very attractive now at 53 and 71, but there is a clear difference. Neither one turns heads as much as before, but they’re still considered sex symbols by many.
We can still be attractive as we age, but it’s going to be in a different way – and that’s okay. I’m still struggling with the aging process, but I’m starting to feel less stressed about it and I’m lightening up on the unrealistic expectation that I should continue to look the same as I used to. The truth is that we all age, but I was so busy scrutinizing every aspect of my own appearance that I didn’t stop to notice that the people around me were also getting older and changing. I don’t love and appreciate them any less, so why should I do that with myself? It’s time to extend the same level of kindness and realism to my looks that I do to those about me and even those on my television and movie screen (at least, when I can go back to the movies, that is!).
I had another powerful realization recently regarding “good enough” after having a conversation with a family member who I’ve often felt viewed me as lacking and a failure or “loser” for not having achieved a certain level of career success. As I spoke with this person, I realized that I am not “less than” in comparison to them. In fact, in some ways, I’m actually a better person in that I have more compassion for others and my behavior reflects that.
I’ve come to realize that there are many facets of a person that define their value and worth, and job titles, salary, and adhering to the societal measure of “success” are only a small part of what makes a person worthwhile. I am not a “loser” just because I don’t make X number of dollars and don’t have an impressive answer to the dreaded and overused cocktail party question. There aren’t even many cocktail parties these days, anyway, so why should I waste my limited time and energy on worrying that strangers might judge me for superficial reasons?
Getting Things Done
For years, I maintained lengthy to-do lists that were virtually impossible to complete. Even so, I often believed that if I just applied myself enough, I would be able to cross off every item in short order. Sometimes I would create “weekend to-do lists” for my husband and I to complete together. Despite his insistence that I had overshot the mark with the list, I continued to maintain that we could get everything done. I just never learned, and I ended up feeling disappointed and defeated when there were inevitably at least a few items without lines through them at the end of the day, weekend, week, month, or year.
I started off 2020 still creating overly lengthy to-do lists (although I usually also do the “just one thing” process for daily planning that I wrote about in late 2019), but I’ve gradually eased up on this practice. I realized that I was the one perpetuating the impression within my mind that I was failing. No one else was holding me to such high standards; it was all my own doing and I was the one making me miserable. I still have to rein myself in from time to time, but now I’m creating shorter lists and even letting my lists go when something comes up in my life, such as when I’m feeling bad physically or emotionally, both of which have been frequent occurrences during the past difficult year.
I’m also making sure to include more fun in my days, as I’ve realized how important it is for me to enjoy my life and cultivate more joy and happiness for myself. I sometimes have to remind myself that I’m a human being rather than a human doing, but I’m moving away from being a slave driver with myself. I’m trying to find balance between the warden and the unruly child dichotomy, which I wrote about years ago in my first blog (I just re-read that post and realize that I need to take the wise advice of my 43-year-old self more often!). I think this may finally be the year when I attain more inner peace and self-compassion, as well as a better balance between getting things done and having fun in my life.
Powerful Insights from Readers
As I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, I received a lot of helpful and insightful comments from readers in response to the post introducing my “enough” theme for 2020. Because I feel that these tips and realizations might be helpful for many of you, I’m encapsulating some of them below. Since I haven’t asked the commenters for their permission in sharing what they wrote (which is still good to do even though they commented on my website), I’m not attaching names to the excerpts. If you’d like more details than what I have summarized here, scroll down to the comments on this post.
- Sometimes it helps to have an “It’s good enough” mantra.
- Spend more time and energy on people who want the best for you and encourage you, rather than on those who try to validate their own life choices by judging you or putting you down.
- We need to be the number one person in charge of determining what we want our lives to look like, as we are the ones living our lives!
- When we open up and talk about our fears and doubts, it helps people to see us as real and vulnerable. This can help us to develop true friendships with others.
- Focus on putting out positive energy and a positive attitude, regardless of how you feel in the moment. When we change our attitudes, we can change our lives.
- “It’s not about what you do; it’s about what you have to offer” – Elizabeth Craft from the “Happier” podcast, in response to a stay-at-home mom worrying that she didn’t add much to gatherings.
- “We often tend to see our shortcomings in boldface and our strengths in tiny print.”
- Many women who don’t work outside of the home provide support to their husbands/partners that is critical to their success and shouldn’t be discounted (by themselves or others).
- One reader suggested that I enjoy, revel, and (if necessary) boast about my freedom, as she has to work a traditional job for financial reasons (which she said is running her into the ground at her age). She actually recommended that I reply to “What do you do?” with something like, “I don’t work, thank God. I don’t have to work… I do write, though, and have accumulated a group of followers whom I have inspired and helped.” I really liked that!
- “I believe if you asked each of us to offer up a list of our own ‘perceived flaws,’ we could each produce a 30,000-word list. But if you were to ask our loved ones if they agree with our perceived failings, the answer would be a resounding no! They would likely say our only flaw is not believing in ourselves.”
- “Always remember that the people who judge us harshly, or judge us at all, are the people who are empty and aching. A long-loved friend of mine once told me to remember that ‘when people act like a shit, it is because they are hurting.’ Harsh words and harsh thoughts serve as an armor to block out vulnerability.”
- “Low self-esteem is not only the greatest of [my] problems, it is the underlying source of all of them. I would never have found myself in the endless buying cycle, or drowning in debt, if I hadn’t been pinning my self-esteem on exterior things. If I could just get that perfect outfit that would give me enough confidence; if I could just finish the home improvements and not feel ashamed to have people over; if I could just have the right number of friends…”
- One reader chose “growth” as her word for 2020. She viewed it in terms of gaining confidence in her life choices and who she is as a person and about achieving a little growth every day.
Well, this didn’t end up being that short of a post at all, but I hope you found value in it. Now I’d love to hear from you! Here are a few questions to spark your thoughts, but feel free to comment however you’d like:
- Did you choose a word/theme for yourself for 2020? If so, what was it?
- How do you feel you did in fulfilling upon your theme and/or your goals for last year?
- What did you learn about yourself during 2020?
- What new perspectives on yourself and life are you carrying into 2021?
I look forward to reading your responses! I’ll be back soon with a new post, in which I share the word/theme that I have selected to guide me during 2021. I’ll let you know why I chose that word and how it’s already impacting my life in the early weeks of this year. Best wishes to you for a wonderful weekend!