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I am enough.
"This year, let’s celebrate Women’s Day by giving ourselves the gift of I Am Enough."
- A letter from our co-founder, Heather Kaye.
It’s Monday morning and I’m processing two exchanges I had with my 13-year old daughter this weekend. My husband and I, whether out of laziness or uncoordinated philosophical agreement, have raised our two daughters with a fair amount of unstructured ‘free time.’ They don’t have after-school activities other than a Chinese tutor on occasion; standing weekend engagements include the Saturday night slumber party and aerial yoga. Light fare by any standard; possibly irresponsible parenting by Shanghai standards.
Now that our girls are 10 and 13, we’re waking up to the fact that they have no hobbies requiring any self-discipline. This weekend we got fed up. “Get off the couch! That’s it, I’m canceling Netflix! I will find a way to block YouTube for real! You need to get out there and explore – find your PASSION! Your MISSION! Your PURPOSE! You need to push yourself!!” is a pretty accurate summary montage. After I cooled down, and my husband left to go rollerblading, slamming the door behind him, I wondered, “Am I talking to them, or to myself?”
Hours later, I had the terrible realization that what I had said (loudly) to my daughters was in fact the biggest unintended message: ”As you are, you are not enough.” You need to be and do more.
I was raised in San Diego, California, home of laid-back surfers and year-round flip flop wearers. You can get a fine for being stressed in SoCal, it’s so out of style. I had the most amazing teachers growing up in the San Diego public school system, but it was my fifth grade teacher who had a shocking message for our Bermuda shorts-wearing crew: “It’s all about initiative, people.” And because he backed up this message with a weekly ice cream party for whoever demonstrated initiative, I was the biggest initiator you ever saw.
It didn’t take long for this initiative thing to pay dividends beyond ice cream. In a relaxed academic community, a little extra effort meant I could do really well. Everyone else was at the beach applying baby oil. Soon I was a straight-A student with my parents telling me I was doing too much, and reminding me that stress was bad. The thing is, I always knew from their total devotion to my brother and I that we were enough, just as we were. There was nothing I needed to do to win their love other than be me. But I’d found my initiative, and I wanted more.
When I arrived at Harvard my freshman year, I was super excited and grateful to be there – I didn’t view anyone as competition, just as 1600 potential new friends. Looking back though, I see that many classmates, despite being at the top of their games, arrived not knowing they were enough. The world is filled with people who don’t know they are enough, just as they are.
"Knowing you’re enough is a feeling, an energy, a mindset – and a gift."
Even for me, that knowing has faded over time. My husband went to a boarding school with the motto, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” The first time I heard this quote, I felt an immediate YES!! I didn’t know this is a quote from the Bible, but hearing it in my 20’s had all the electricity of a life mission. I thought, “I’ve been given so much, so many opportunities and an amazing family – I will find a way to pay it all forward!”
But what felt like a vast, exciting ocean to sail then now feels like an albatross around my neck as I approach 50. “To whom much is given, much is expected” now feels a bit like a bill coming due. Have I met those expectations? My own? Or those of an independent committee weighing, as if on a scale, all that I’ve been given and therefore am expected to pay back?
Therein lies the paradox. As parents, we really, really want to give our children the world, and help them reach their full potential. We want them to thrive in what we know is a very challenging world by acing every step of their youth so that all of those doors stay open to them. Sometimes we rail on them out of fear that a forgotten homework assignment today will become sleeping through the LSAT later, or some other opportunity that could have been theirs but was erased by carelessness or lack of discipline.
Most of us don’t know how to create internal motivation – drive, initiative - in our children. We excel at the “To whom much is given” part but we don’t know how to help them meet all of those resulting expectations. One thing we’re pretty good at though, is squashing their initiative by grabbing the wheel and steering their lives for them – with the best of intentions, of course.
This weekend I watched “The World Is A Little Blurry,” the new documentary about Billie Eilish, with my 13-year old daughter. It was an extraordinarily intimate look at Billie’s day to day life during her ascent to super-stardom, but to any parent watching it was a master class in how to support the child you have without grabbing the wheel. Throughout the movie, what struck me most was how authentically herself she is, as if she grew up in a bubble where no one told her what to think or feel or do.
She carries with her what I’ve come to believe is the most valuable gift any parent can give: a foundational sense that she is enough, just as she is. It turns out that knowing you’re enough has nothing to do with accomplishments. You can be the most celebrated person in your field and still not feel that you are enough. Knowing you’re enough is a feeling, an energy, a mindset – and a gift.
As we approach International Women’s Day on March 8th, I hope to renew this gift to myself and to my daughters. Even though I ache for them to find their passions, and be more active stewards in developing their lives, I know that my most important role is to love and support them for who they are right now, and always.
Every year, Women’s Day is a reckoning of dreary statistics and also progress, but we are still left with the truth that we have Women’s Day because women are still not equally paid, represented, educated or respected. This past year in particular, millions of women have left the workforce, mostly due to inadequate societal structures laid bare by Covid that require them to return to the domestic sphere. We are still trying to be enough for everybody, and it’s Mission Impossible.
This year, let’s celebrate Women’s Day by giving ourselves the gift of I Am Enough. And pay that forward to the girls and women we love. This alone will change the world for the better.
Image: Loop Swim co-founder, Heather Kaye.