Wednesday 12 July 2023

It's Not Enough / Never Enough

I think everybody should get rich and famous and everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that that’s not the answer. (Jim Carrey)

At certain moments, I find myself asking some of life’s great unanswerable questions. What is my purpose? Is this all there is? Is it enough? And, come to that, what does “enough” mean, anyway? Two songs offer contradictory insights: “Alone Tonight” by English rock band Genesis, and “Never Enough” from the musical drama film The Greatest Showman.

Alone Tonight

It’s not enough, it’s not enough
This feeling I’m feeling inside

I’ve known the Genesis track most of my adult life. Its cry of not enough echoes from a place of almost existential emptiness. There’s an emotional paralysis too; an inability or unwillingness to imagine things will change or improve. It’s the archetypal cry of the lonely, and I know it well. I included it in a post on loneliness for Mental Health Awareness Week 2022.

My earliest memory of loneliness goes back to my first year at university. I would stand night after night at the window of my halls of residence looking out across the lights of the city, extravagantly empty and alone. I ached for something I had yet to experience. Genuine connection. There’s a Genesis track I remember from those days. It contains the lines, “It’s not enough, it’s not enough. This feeling I’m feeling inside. Oh, I know it, I know tonight that I’ll be on my own again.” Forty years on, that track (“Alone Tonight”) can bring me to tears. Ironically, back then, I would not have cried. I had yet to learn how.

As well as sorrow and loss, there’s more than a hint of self-indulgence in the lyrics. Even the reaching out for help is less a healthy attempt to move forward than a cry for the attention of someone who undoubtedly has already done so.

Say that you’ll, say that you’ll
Help me reach the other
Help me please cos I know I’m gonna be
On my own again alone again tonight

Looking back, I have compassion for the young man standing at the window all those years ago. He had no idea how to address the aching emptiness. At eighteen, that’s understandable. More than four decades later, I’m still trying to figure it out.

Never Enough

Towers of gold are still too little
These hands could hold the world but it’ll
Never be enough

This is one of my favourite songs from The Greatest Showman. Performed in the movie by actress Rebecca Ferguson, but actually sung by Loren Allred, it’s the proclamation of someone (Swedish opera singer Johanna Maria “Jenny” Lind) who knows great success and can look to more. She nevertheless declares that no matter its breadth and depth, public acclaim can bring no lasting reward, no ultimate satiation. Why is that? What would make it “enough”? In the movie, it’s love.

Take my hand
Will you share this with me?
’Cause darling without you [all of this]
Will never be enough

More generally, though, it’s whatever we most need. A key relationship, perhaps. Understanding who we are. Identifying our life purpose. This message is fundamental to the movie; most notably the central figure of P.T. Barnum, played by Hugh Jackman, but also many of the secondary characters. It comes through powerfully in two more of my favourite songs, “This Is Me” and “Rewrite the Stars.” Whatever it is for us, without it there will always be something missing. There’s an echo here in the words of actor Jim Carrey in a 2005 interview published in “The Ottawa Citizen.”

[Carrey] says that earlier in his career, he believed that making just one more film, getting one more hit, would be enough, but he got tired of being emotionally disappointed.

“You just go like, ‘Yeah, it was a fantastic hit, but what now?’” Carrey’s advice: “I think everybody should get rich and famous and everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that that’s not the answer.”

When Do I Feel This Way?

I mentioned there are times I ask myself these questions. What are those times? It’s perhaps easier to say when I don’t feel that way. I don’t feel that way when I’m occupied with work, with writing or other creative pursuits, or in conversation with friends. It’s good to be actively and creatively engaged, but I wonder if I do these things as much to distract myself as for more laudable reasons.

Distraction is fine as a management technique to get us through difficult times. It helps when I’m feeling flat or the kind of low I’ve described previously in Return to Down. Coping strategies are meant to help us handle things when living is hard, but if we rely on them too much we can lose sight of what they were helping us cope with.

If we never set them aside and address what’s wrong in our lives, we’re likely to keep distracting ourselves, confusing its temporary relief from emptiness for satisfaction. Many of us will recognise, in ourselves or others, the insatiable urge to move house every few years, to constantly redecorate or rearrange aspects of our lives, or begin a new relationship that’s likely to be no longer lasting than the one before. For all our attempts, the not enoughness will still there, until we face it properly.

How Do These Ideas Help?

I said these lyrics help me address these questions of meaning and enoughness. In what way? What have I learned from them? The Genesis track reminds me that the ache of bereavement or lack (including the lack of something we’ve not yet known or achieved) is a commonplace of human existence. It always feels like we’re suffering as no one in history has ever suffered, but we’re far from alone in our emptiness, our sadness, our excuisite and elaborate pain.

I broke up with a friend several years ago. The pain was real but one unexpected blessing was the realisation that there was nothing unique about my experience. Friendships and relationships break up all the time. Most people learn this early on, in their teens if not younger. For me, the insight came late but was no less meaningful for being tardy. It helped me accept and explore what the loss of this friend — and this friendship — meant for me. What needs had been opened? What had I learned?

Several times in my life someone has appeared and filled a gap I had no idea was there, because I’d never looked at myself deeply enough to see it. I remember explaining this to one friend a number of years ago. I’d had no idea there was a space, a gap, a not-enoughness that she — that our friendship — could fill, until she appeared in my life. When in time we separated, that space was still there, but I knew its name now and what it represented for me. No breakup or parting could take that away.

If Genesis taught me to recognise people-shaped spaces in my life, “Never Enough” reminds me it’s not all about people. I have people aplenty in my world. Family. Close friends. People I trust, love, and value. People who meet the vast majority of my emotional and relationship needs. I have a job that (recently at least) motivates me. I have my writing. I have no specific health or money stresses. And yet there are still those never enough moments when I feel some fundamental need is going unmet. It reminds me to treasure life’s successes, but never to mistake them for the real thing — whatever that might be.

When Did it Last Feel Like it Was Enough?

I don’t always feel unfulfilled. There are times, mostly when I’m sitting in a cafĂ© or coffee shop writing (as I am right now, at JAVA in the centre of Keswick) when I lose myself in the immediacy of what I’m doing. A few days ago on social media I posted a photo taken in the garden of the vacation cottage I’m staying in this week.

On holiday, blogging about enoughness in the garden, surrounded by hills and trees, twenty yards from the river. If ever there was a moment when what is, is enough, this is it.

At such moments, I am content. It’s interesting that the word content suggests the content-of-the-moment, what our world contains in that moment. It’s a word and a state of being that is overlooked and underappreciated. Being content loses out to being happy, or excited, or passionate, or joyful. But it can hold — can contain — all those and more.

Enough Is Enough

This leads me to another aspect of enoughness. That’s the idea that whatever is, whatever you’re doing or have in the moment, with all its incompleteness and inadequacies, failings and not-quite-perfect-ness — exists. And if it exists, how can it be less than enough?

“Perfection is the enemy of the good,” so the saying goes, and the endless pursuit of having everything we want, desire, or need, can be the enemy of contentment. Of appreciation. Of living in the here and now rather than in some imagined perfection we can never quite achieve. Known as the Nirvana fallacy, this is something I recognise as a writer and blogger. I explored how the desire for ideal conditions can get in the way of writing a few years ago in I Was Going to Write Today. After listing all the ways my situation was less than perfect, I recognised the fallacy for what it was — an excuse to keep me stifled.

And in the meantime the world goes on. And other people write. And they are not necessarily “inspired.” And they probably don’t have the right pen or the perfect notebook. Maybe they found the back of an envelope to scribble on when their laptop crashed so they didn’t lose what was bursting to get out. And maybe the cat just spewed up or the baby did. Or they feel sick today or depressed or despair of ever making a difference or even getting through another day fuck even another hour but you know what they dare anyway they dare to care and write and scream sigh vomit breathe craft something from the guts of them because sometimes that’s all you have and all you can offer to the world and sometimes it is enough you are enough YOU ARE ENOUGH.

Ultimately, I feel there’s value in both enough and not enough, as long as neither is taken to extreme. The dynamic balance between the two is what drives us on, creatively at least. I was discussing this recently with my friend and fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson of I’m NOT Disordered. Aimee appreciates and celebrates her wins, but is driven by a sense that she can always do better, bigger, or differently. It’s a strategy that’s brought her considerable success to date, and one I find inspiring.

Over to You

In this post I’ve explored some of my thoughts about enoughness, inspired by two songs which deal with the idea of “not enough” from very different perspectives. What do these concepts mean to you? How do you handle feeling that whatever your life contains right now, it’s not enough for you? It’s still something I’m working with, and I’d value your thoughts and ideas, whether in the comments below or via our contact page.


Image by Felicia Buitenwerf at Unsplash.



  1. Totally relate to all of this. - I'm not sure we even know what 'enough' looks like, to begin with.

    1. Thank you for taking time to leave a comment, it's very much appreciated.

      I know what you mean. As I was writing this piece I realised there are so many aspects to this idea of "enoughness" and maybe I've only touched the surface here. I may return to it in the future. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

      — Martin