Eagle and strength, mural, Brooklyn

You can have everything you want, and you will never be enough.

Ouch.

I keep running my head in into two cultural mindsets that I think have negative consequences in American culture (this is not necessarily true everywhere. The French, for example, don’t necessarily subscribe to the American parenting ideal of praising a kid for everything they do). But within this culture, there are a couple of paradigms that run fluidly through our consciousness and are worth paying attention to.These ideas pervade our mental space, our advertising space, our urgency, and our need for more–perhaps even our inability to say no. And I just think they are terribly wrong–and bad for us.

The first paradigm: “you can have anything you want.”

The idea that you can do whatever you want, become whoever you want, and have everything you want is an ambition and idea taught to Millennials and Generation Y from the moment they’re given matching sets of toddling shoes and oodles of fresh diapers and socks.

This idea that you can do, be or have anything you want. Do you agree? Is this true? Can you really be anything you want? Can you have everything?

But Sarah, you might gasp–don’t tell me that I won’t get what I want! That’s a terrible idea! How could you say such a thing?

It’s complicated. You can try and place your energy in however many spaces you can get your hands on. But for many people, they won’t reach their dreams. Their jobs won’t fulfill their passions. They’ll be taken on other journeys or life trajectories that are entirely different than what might be expected.

Regardless of the outcome on this debate–perhaps yes, you can have whatever you want–the corollary is what’s interesting to me right now. If you truly can have whatever you want (or so the cultural teaching goes), then it follows that we don’t have to make decisions because we can have it all, and we don’t have to learn how to say no, because it’s easier to say yes to things.

The consequence of the assumption that you can have everything you want is that you may be disappointed. Often.

Learning how to say no, how to decide, how to choose, and how to get to your own heart center is critical. Interestingly, if you really examine this assumption–I’m not sure that many people actually want to have everything. Happiness isn’t about things and ownership and millions of dollar bills. Wealth is about freedom and having enough or just exactly what you want. Regardless of the outcome of this debate, one consequence of this assumption is that we don’t get taught how to decide. How to say no.

Is the flip side of being taught you can have everything you want failing to teach us how to make decisions? Does this make prioritization and deciding impossible?

The second: “You will never be enough.”

Oof. Ouch, that doesn’t feel good either, does it?

Yet look for it. There seems to be a cultural construction or ideal that you will never be enough. This idea pervades–you will never have enough, and you will never be enough. This culture of scarcity–of not having enough–means that we’re always seeking something to fill us up or fill the void. Hence, we shop like crazy.

Brene Brown identifies this culture of scarcity in several common phrases that we say every single day. When you wake up in the morning, the first thought many people have is:

“I didn’t get enough sleep.”

Not enough. (Why?) Then, we start the work day:

“I don’t have enough time.”

Again, not enough. (Why?) And at the end of the day:

“I didn’t get enough done.”

And again, not enough. (Why?)

We see this from the way we talk about money (“I don’t have enough money”)–and in fact, that’s not a conversation we’re having because we’re too timid to even begin talking about money and scarcity–to our sleep, our time, our lives, and our work.

Why these cultural constructs fail us.

These two cultural constructions–a culture of scarcity (“you are not enough, you don’t have enough,”) and a culture of achievement (“you can be anything you want, you can have everything you want,”)–are they beneficial? How do they serve us, and how do they deceive us?

And worse, does the combination of these two cultural thoughts make us all slightly neurotic? (I can be anything! But shit! I’ll never be enough! But I can have everything! But shit! I’ll never be enough!)

What would a different mindset look like?

Out of curiosity, what if we had a different mantra? What would the opposite construct look like? Perhaps:

You are enough.

You already have everything you need.

There is nothing in this world that you need to own or acquire to make your life better.

You are enough.

This here, this is enough.

Hmmm…


Get my monthly newsletter, not available anywhere else: The SKP Monthly.