Seeking peace with not being good enough

My pin number was 2000, my computer login password was Sydney. To say, I was singularly focused on my goal of being part of the GB Olympic rowing squad at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 would be an understatement. Years and years of training, sacrificing important family time and events and any sort of social life, were all about being able to say I was an Olympian. I was absolutely clear about my goal and what I wanted to be. Then, in April 1999, selection didn’t go my way and I was told “You’ve tried your best but sorry it’s not good enough for what we need!” My road stopped.

Now we may not all be wannabe Olympians or even England footballers dealing with their failure to achieve their goal of winning the Euros, but we’ve all experienced that feeling of not being good enough, or not achieving something even when we’d worked really hard for it. The profound disappointment is incredibly difficult to take. In this blog, I want to share some thoughts on how I picked myself up and what, two decades later, I’ve learnt about the perpetual pursuit of trying to be ‘good enough’.

When I was in the GB rowing team, how I felt about myself, who I thought I was and what I believed others thought about me, was all connected to how good a rower I was. I wanted to be the best. I wanted to be an expert rower. My identity was all about that expertise and being the best I could be. I wanted others to see me that way too. Strange as it may seem, my motivation was never about beating others. Going to the Olympics would prove I was an expert, it would prove I was good enough, and maybe even the best.

The disappointment of that rejection and ejection from the squad hit hard. My Olympic dream was in tatters. I’d lost my job and because I was funded by the National Lottery as a member of the GB rowing team I no longer had an income. In my own eyes, and I presumed others too, I was a failure. I had no job, no house, I was driving a clapped-out car. I had no partner and, I just proved I wasn’t good enough. So, if I wasn’t an expert rower who was I? What did I have to hang my identity on to?

After the initial shock, I didn’t waste time. I found myself a job working in a leadership development consultancy. Looking back now, it was clear that my feelings of self-worth continued to be dominated for years by whether I thought I was ‘good enough’.

In my new job I set about proving myself as an ‘expert’, not an expert rower but a different sort of expert. I worked hard to earn my status as an expert leadership consultant, client director, coach, and leader … the list goes on. My personal life changed too, dramatically, as I adopted my son in 2014. This meant I had to become an expert at home as well as work. I wanted to see myself as an expert consultant and an expert mum. I still wanted to be my best self, to be good enough.

Unfortunately, while the pursuit of being good enough and an expert had secured me a good career and financial independence, it was exhausting, it was endless. Anyone who has children knows that aiming to be the best mother in the world is a recipe for disaster! I constantly felt as if I was not living up to my own, or others, expectations. I felt I just wasn’t good enough, as a mother, as a friend or as a colleague.

One of the things I love about working at Complete is that we support everyone on their own journey of continual development. In fact, we see our development as critical to our ability to help, support, and develop our clients. Over the last six years I have explored many areas of my own development. Recently I feel like I’ve experienced a breakthrough in my development, and ‘crossed the threshold’ to a new version of myself by understanding the stages of adult development.

It’s widely recognised that children move through various well-defined developmental stages. These have been documented by many authors such as Piaget and Kohlberg. By the age of 14 years old, most children have developed the skills and capabilities they need to function in the adult world. Unfortunately, we are likely to stay at that teenage-level maturity if there is no burning platform or strong need for us to develop.

Most people leave school or university thinking their development is done. In truth when we start working we’ve only achieved the most basic levels of ego maturity, we are little more than teenagers on the inside. The move from immature adult to mature adult is where all the magic happens! 

There are 12 stages of ego development that have been defined so far and what I’ve recently discovered is, like most of the ‘working western’ world, I have been stuck at level five – Expert. Experts add value through what they know and are in pursuit of the right answer. They are constantly checking their achievements to set their standard. Standard setting brings with it continuous improvement, competitiveness and – my personal favourite – perfectionism. At least 60% of the adult population is also at this stage, or earlier [1].

The game changer for me was the realisation that at this expert level of ego maturity my sense of identity was all wrapped up in what I can achieve or how good I was. It is only since understanding this that I’ve been able to start separating my identity from the standards I’ve set myself and what I’ve achieved.

I’ve learnt that I am so much more than an expert. I’m a very caring, insightful and challenging person, whether I am an Olympian or not. I’m a loyal, supportive thoughtful friend whether I have a big house or new car or not. I generate belief in others and bring people together despite not always getting my son to do his homework each week.

My identity it not what I do or what I achieve, it’s who I am. And what I’m learning is that I am good enough.


[1] Ken Wilber, Integral psychology 

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