Charles Thomas: When You Feel Like You Aren’t Good Enough

Cover art of Olivia Rodrigo's debut studio album "SOUR."

A couple of years ago, my daughter introduced me to the great young singer-songwriter Olivia Rodrigo. Rodrigo’s debut album, SOUR, contains some of the best pop music I’ve heard in years. If you haven’t checked her out, you should. While only 20-years-old, Rodrigo’s precocious songwriting abilities are impressive. While many know her hit song “Driver’s License,” many of the deep cuts on SOUR, are just as good as her breakout single.

I was struck by one song in particular called “Enough for You.” This song showcases Rodrigo’s remarkable ability to write songs that are both catchy and relatable. In “Enough for You,” Rodrigo sings about her attempts to win the heart of a man by learning everything she can about him only to be rejected for someone else who he finds more interesting. “You always say I’m never satisfied, but I don’t think that’s true,” she sings, “’cause all I ever wanted was to be enough for you.”

We’ve all felt like that at one point in our lives. Many of us feel that way all the time. We try so hard to do our job well or to impress someone we like or to finally get a good grade in our toughest class. So, when things don’t turn out the way we hoped they would, many of us fall into a cycle of self-hatred and we ask ourselves that classic question:

Why aren’t I good enough?

While it’s normal to ask ourselves that question, the answers we provide ourselves are rarely productive or helpful.

Think about it. Is there any possible answer to that question that could lead someone to greater success, personal growth, or a better life?

Probably not, because the way this question is framed leads people to be critical of their character. While we all have character faults, focusing on them doesn’t suggest a path forward or inspire hope for change. When we ask ourselves, “why aren’t I good enough?” the answer we give is usually something like “because I’m lazy” or “because I’m stupid.”

Not only are negative character assessments like that a root cause of depression, but they are also a dead end when it comes to solving specific problems. There are no clear answers to how someone becomes not lazy or not stupid, and so this kind of thinking leads inevitability to hopelessness.

The crux of the matter is this: when you ask yourself why you aren’t good enough, you are asking the wrong question.

A better approach to take when you are feeling not good enough is to ask yourself more specific questions. For example, instead of getting caught up in feeling stupid, ask yourself what the specific reasons were that you didn’t do well on your psychology exam. This question leads to opportunities for change and more importantly to hope. It leads to specific actionable changes you can make before the next exam, so you earn you a better grade next time.

If you’ve been telling yourself that you aren’t good enough for a long time, making the transition to asking more helpful questions can be challenging and it can feel daunting. Thinking patterns become as ingrained as any other patterns in our lives and telling yourself that you’re stupid for years on end has the same kind of negative effect on your psychological health as smoking cigarettes has on your physical health. 

But the benefits of asking better questions are immense. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that changing the questions you ask yourself in times of struggle can alter the trajectory of your life, and over the long term be life changing. Better questions can also lead you away from narrow-mindedly blaming yourself whenever something bad happens in your life.

Later in “Enough for You,” Olivia Rodrigo starts asking better questions and realizes that maybe the problem isn’t that she isn’t good enough after all. Maybe the reason the man she loves isn’t satisfied with her is that he just can’t be satisfied. As she sings later in the song, “I don’t think anything could ever be enough for you.” 

The next time you find yourself asking why you aren’t good enough, I hope you’ll remember this column and make a conscious effort to ask a better question, one that leads you to solutions, and to maybe even to considering the possibility that the problem could be something other than you.

Charles D. Thomas is a writer, psychotherapist, and Main Street Media Group board member who made Three Rivers his home for over a decade. Feedback is welcome at [email protected]

Any views or opinions expressed in “Big World, Small Town” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Watershed Voice staff or its board of directors.