This holiday season seemed particularly odd to me. I had more time to myself than I have had in several years. I had less pain than I have had in a long time. I had more to eat and enjoyed every morsel. I had more memories, both happy and sad, and I had more occasions to create new memories.
I reflected on all the blessings that have come my way in the past few years, including making new friends, traveling more than I have done in a while, attending more concerts, and improving my writing. I spent my time taking stock of who I am and who I used to be, as well as thinking about how I want to spend my time, use my skills, and explore who I am becoming.
All of this to say that what I have been contemplating is, “What is enough?” This is a very big question and it continues to challenge me. Especially since I am facing my older years without a partner and needing to rely on my skills, talents, and gifts to make sure I maintain a comfortable standard of living. It is not easy for me to write this, as I realize just how incredibly privileged I am to enjoy the standard of living I have. I do not take lightly the fact that it could very easily change, no matter what my intentions may be, nor am I ignorant of the fact that there are many, too many others who are daily faced with homelessness, loneliness, hunger, and fear.
My mother experienced a great deal of anxiety and shame in her later years because she did not have enough money to support herself. The irony was that she was surrounded by antiques and lived in a house that was paid for. She ultimately ended up qualifying for Medicaid because she had never saved her money, and instead relied on mortgaging her home in an effort to cover expenses. She kept this from me for a long time, and by the time I did find out, she was at the point of losing her home. Fortunately, I was able to help her out, but the result was a deep rift in our relationship and an added financial burden for me when I was just starting out in my career. I share this not for sympathy, but to point out that a very high price was paid for not having enough.
Was there a better way to have managed all this? What do I need to do to make sure that I have enough? Abraham Maslow identified a key component in answering this question. He called it a “hierarchy of needs”. At its base he identified essential physiologic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. Meeting these needs is critical in order for human beings to survive and attend to other needs. My mother became emotionally and psychologically frozen when she was unable to pay for her food, pay the bank, and keep the heat and lights on. She didn’t have sufficient amounts for the purpose needed. She didn’t have enough.
She had also lost her sense of self. Some of this happened as her role and status in life changed. When she was younger and was working, her world was filled with purpose and meaning. After she retired, she sought connection and community through volunteering and participating in church activities. But has her health declined, so did these activities. She wasn’t able to go out as much, and she became more and more of a recluse. She no longer felt she was enough.
One of the inevitable consequences of growing old is the realization that time is running out. Other things seem to decline also. Strength and endurance change. What used to take seconds or minutes may now take hours or days. Capacity to bounce back from challenges can also change. Resilience and ability to manage stress, illness, environmental conditions, as well as increased emotional and cognitive demands, can all vary as the decades go by. Loss of loved ones (including pets), partners, friends, classmates, and colleagues becomes more frequent, bringing home the reality that our time on this planet is finite. All of these factors influence our belief that there is enough.
A core measure of satisfaction with life – what you believe is good enough – is challenged as multiple factors change. Things that I was impatient with when I was younger I now find easier to tolerate. Other things I realize are no longer tolerable at all, and I become indignant when others do not share my point of view. There is an urgency to some things because I know how fragile or special they are. But how do I communicate that urgency with others who do not have the same world view?
My working definition for “enough” is having a sufficient amount for the purpose needed. This requires me to really understand what purpose is. Do I need money to buy food, pay the mortgage/rent, or set aside for my care or the care of someone else? Do I need energy to fight illness, sustain the effort needed to take care of my activities of daily living, and focus my mind and soul on creating things? Do I need faith to confront my fears of dying, courage to defend the values and truths I hold dear, and compassion and tolerance to cool my anger and tame my desire for vengeance? What are sufficient amounts of these things?
We are at the beginning of a new decade. We shouldn’t pass up this opportunity to explore what having enough means.
I challenge you to explore what it means for you to be able to say,
- “I am enough.”
- “I have enough.”
- “There is enough.”
- “That’s good enough!”
I would delight in hearing what you come up with and would love to share it with my other readers! Please comment below or send me at email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.