When enough isn’t enough…


A good friend of mine recently said that I seem to give 110% to everything – particularly when it comes to work, friends and relationships. And what a wonderful thing to hear, that to the outside world it seems like you couldn’t really do or give much more. But it got me thinking, why is it then that despite the effort we invest into things it doesn’t always lead to the outcome you’d wanted? Sometimes it seems as though doing enough just isn’t enough.

Many people would identify with the notion that ‘what you put in, is what you get out’. That is to say, that in most cases the effort you invest is more or less equal to the outcome you will see in the end. One of the main reasons many of us like this concept is that it implies that the world is fair and full of opportunity to succeed and be happy… if you will just put in enough effort. But more importantly, it also suggests that you can be the master (or mistress) of your own destiny – that we are in control of the way that our life will pan out. People who will particularly like that idea are those who believe that their life and destiny is controlled from within themselves (as opposed to those who believe that life is controlled by external environmental factors). In psychology we call the concept of internal vs external control, your ‘locus of control’. From a young age, I identified as having an internal locus of control and believed that most things in life (good and bad) were as a result of my efforts and actions. You could also make a link with the concept of ‘karma’ too – the idea that your good and bad actions in life eventually catch up to you. If you believe in karma or something similar, you probably (but not always) will believe that your efforts determine your outcomes.

Sounds simple enough so far right? But the problem with this concept is that so often in life, situations involve another person (or several people) and therefore our own effort is no longer the sole determinant of the outcome. It is in these situations where people like me (and perhaps many of you reading this) can feel frustrated and confused. You can put in 110% effort and still end up with an undesirable result. If you take relationships as a prime example of this (romantic, friendship, work related – any type of relationship actually), you can invest so much time, effort and care into it and still end up with the other person(s) walking away, treating you badly and / or choosing to end their relationship with you. To an ‘internaliser’, this is when all hell breaks loose and can make you question your belief system and in some cases start to turn the blame for a rubbish end result inwards on yourself.

As an internaliser myself, I recognise this danger only too well and I’ve begun over recent months to reflect upon how to deal with a world that I want to believe is within my control but realistically in some circumstances is not. The conclusion I have drawn is that if control is something that is important to you in order that you can keep hopeful about the future and believe you can shape the way things go, then don’t relinquish that to others. Instead reassess where in the situation you can find your own little piece of control and try to stick with that. Also, shift your perspective to consider that control also equals responsibility. In personal relationships, the reality is that you don’t have all of the control and this is a good thing because it also means you don’t have all of the responsibility either. If a friendship, romantic relationship, work relationship succeeds or fails this is not all within your control and therefore is not all your responsibility either. If you give 110% it will not compensate for a 20% effort from someone else, much as we might wish it would. So let the responsibility go and focus on the thing that IS within your control…how you feel and react to the situation you are now faced with.

So, the things I have decided to try to keep in mind as I currently go through a tough personal situation are…

Relationships are one part of life where enough is not always enough… but that’s okay. Sometimes we can give enough (more than enough) to another person (or people) or situation and it doesn’t guarantee success. Rather than self-blaming and looking at things you could have done differently, be fair and put some of the responsibility back onto the other person / people involved and just be proud of the fact that you made your best effort.

Sometimes it’s the ‘long game’ game that counts. Just because the effort and care didn’t pay off this time, should that mean you don’t try again (and again and again…)? Short term set-backs come along that may well shake your belief system and determination but the ability to get back up again and still put in effort may well lead to longer term successes. If a situation or person wasn’t a happy recipient of your efforts should that mean you stop altogether? No, move on and try again elsewhere where it will be appreciated.

Learn to let go and hand over control and responsibility. It’s impossible (and undesirable) to keep a handle on everything in your life and those who really love you sometimes want to shoulder that control and responsibility with / for you. Let go of the control and allow others to occasionally pick up the slack, this is the only way to build healthy intimacy and trust. When you let go and allow others in, you can get the clarity you need to resume life at full speed 🙂

So in concluding, it is true that enough is not always enough to secure a particular result. But there is a journey to be had through persevering despite set-backs and staying determined to keep giving 110%. I know more than most how much each perceived ‘failure’ strips away a part of you and it becomes harder to pick yourself back up again with the same enthusiasm and optimism as before but we have to keep the faith that in the long term it will lead to better things.

“Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle” Napoleon Hill