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How do you know when you are good enough?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 by Marianne Elliott

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Yesterday I sat down with a friend who knows a bit about editing and the publishing industry. She had very kindly made time to read my first three chapters. To my delight she had a lot of really positive feedback. Her critical feedback was also quite delightful, mostly because it confirmed that I already knew what wasn't working and just had to trust my judgement more. She also gave me quite specific feedback on a few things that I didn't know about formatting etc.

Then she told me that she would be calling me next week to make sure I had sent those chapters out to publishers and/or agents. They are ready, she told me. You are ready, she told me. You have done the work, your writing is ready, your story is ready, you are ready. She told me what I had hoped and suspected might be true. But until she told me I hadn't really dared to believe it.

I had the same experience when a best-selling novelist friend told me that my synopsis and query letter were all that they needed to be. She told me they were good and so I believed it. It's hard for me to ever see that anything I do is 'good enough' not because I don't see that it is good but because I can always see how it could be better. When I hear from someone whom I trust that what I have done is good enough then I realise that it is true. Until then, I tend to doubt it.

This isn't limited to my writing. When I left my first job as a corporate lawyer I was surprised to be told by one of the partners that I was hte most promising young litigator he had seen in a long time. I hadn't realised I was that good.

When I left Afghanistan I was equally surprised to hear one of the UN mission leaders say that I was one of the very best human rights officers he had ever worked with. Again, I had been so busy seeing what more I could be doing that I hadn't really noticed how well I was doing.

It's not false modesty. It's more like a kind of perfectionism. I know I'm not alone in this. But I'm learning to look for what is good about what I am doing. I'll still always be the kind of person who wants to do the very best I can whether I'm representing clients in court, documenting human rights violations, teaching yoga or writing a book. But I am learning to see and value all that is good in what I do, to trust my intention and to recognise when I've done well. I'm also learning to invite and then to accept feedback from trusted readers, students, colleagues and friends.

Right now I know that I'm ready to send these chapters out. Even though it is only one small step in a very long process, it's a wonderful feeling.

How do you know when you are ready? How do you come to trust that what you have, what you do, what you are is good enough?

Also – a little story I wrote about finding (heart) space in small kitchen is up over at This Ordinary Day.


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12 Responses to "How do you know when you are good enough?"

  1. cath says:

    yay!! exciting!!

  2. There is no good. There is no enough. There is no knowing. Trust your life as it unfolds: the encouragement and the criticism. All you have to do is take the next step.
    Modesty is never false. You truly are the last to know! Go for it.

  3. Mel says:

    oh wow, how exciting a book ready to be born. so with you about the perfectionism…

  4. pen* says:

    i love this post because it is about acknowledging your strengths, what you’re good at, and saying, “yeah! go me!”
    yet it is written with honest grace and humility. it shows the two can sit side by side.
    i also love this line: “to trust my intention” because i really believe that is the foundation. get your intention right and the rest naturally flows.
    for me i am just trying to put one step in front of the other. i am still ridiculously unsure, and a little lost if i am honest – but i feel with each step i take i am moving closer to what i am looking for.
    i will try and take inspiration from you though, and invite feedback into my life, because i can see how sometimes seeing yourself through the eyes of those who believe in you can help support you in the journey, and i guess blogging is a small, often anonymous, step in the process… but i am still learning 🙂
    in the meantime, i can see why you would have excelled in all your past (and future!) endeavours. and i am so excited about your book.

  5. Kara-Leah says:

    Can so relate… on many levels. Always seeing what could be better, how things could be improved, what to strive for… and missing the beauty of what is.
    Thanks for the reminder, and for the beautiful way you share it.

  6. i can deeply relate to the need for outer confirmation in order to “dare to believe” what i already know. and, in the past, i have even doubted the words of others…allowing my own sense of how i could have done better prevail.
    i think it’s like anything else. you know when you are ready when the scale tips and there is no other choice but to move forward. and that, most certainly, comes from within.
    so glad to hear you are getting there sooner. and so glad for myself, and the rest of the world, who will have the pleasure of reading your story.
    rock on.

  7. Helen says:

    xoxo (I will still ring you! lol)

  8. i personally often don’t think i’ll ever be truly ready for anything… because life is full to overflowing with surprises. i guess though, readiness can come in many forms. like simply saying YES to something because it feels right, even if i feel i am not yet ready for it!
    i am so looking forward to your book being born. the parts of your story that you have shared here so far have captivated me and i find myself always deepening my thoughts each time i visit you here.
    thanks for sharing your story. for inviting me to consider my own life more deeply and consciously.

  9. amy says:

    i’ve read this post a couple of times. it really struck a chord with me. your willingness to speak openly about the things you are learning is a gift to the rest of us. it might not feel like teaching in a direct, conventional sense but it is. thank you.

  10. Brilliant, honest post.
    It’s hard to know, to realize in our guts, when we are good enough, ready for the Next Big Thing, whatever it may be.
    You have dear friends, who are helping you along the path to publication. What a blessing.
    PS: Can’t wait to read your finished novel!

  11. Swirly says:

    I think positive feedback, approval, compliments, etc. – in a perfect world – should support us already knowing we are good enough, so outside feedback isn’t a requirement to feel that confidence, but an additional confirmation of what is already true.

  12. aj bush says:

    You are on your way now. Enjoy the ride!! I can’t wait to read the book. I want to be one of the 1st people to buy it.

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