The Secret to Knowing When You’ve Done Enough

Photo Credit: Allison McGinley;

A few quick announcements:

1. Welcome, RowdyKittens readers! I’m thrilled that you’re here, and honored to have shared a 2nd guest post on Tammy Strobel’s site. Consider receiving posts via email; when you do, you’ll receive a copy of my book, “Your Creed of Care:  How To Dig For Treasure In People (Without Getting Buried Alive)”.

2. A Wish Come Clear community, you can find the RowdyKittens post here:  It’s Not Far:  On Finding Beauty All Around Us.

3. There’s a special giveaway for commenters on this post; read on!


This week it has come to my attention that almost everyone I know –myself included– has trouble knowing when enough is enough.

I’m not talking about the traditional addiction areas, like knowing when to stop eating or drinking or shopping. I’m talking about the more insidious ones, like productivity, or helping.

I’m not talking about the times when we have to step it up (like real emergencies, or situations wherein we’re called to love boldly and step out of our comfort zone.) I’m talking about treating our lives as ongoing emergencies, putting ourselves on-call 24/7.

Yet even for the most well-balanced among us, it can be difficult to know when we’ve done enough for others, for ourselves. It can be hard to rest in the sufficiency of a job well done, a day well lived…because we’re not sure where that point of ‘enough’ is.

It is impulse control, but not of the sort we usually think. It’s all about moving past the compulsion to prove oneself– to be more, do more, help more– and listening for the deeper guidance available to us. It’s about listening for the still small voice of sufficiency.

And listening for that voice makes us vulnerable. It makes us face up to all the things we’d rather ignore. Too often, we’d rather hide our hurt behind helping others than admit that we need help ourselves. Too often, we give from a place of emptiness.

I myself ask these questions:

  • What if, instead of trying harder to be a good friend to someone I know, I got honest and said, “It hurts me when we repeat this pattern:  you say you miss me, we start to make plans, and then you never call me back”?
  • What if, instead of pushing through 12-hour workdays (wherein I come home tired beyond tired), I committed to caring for my health and refused to over-schedule?
  • What if, instead of trying to drown out what I’m feeling with overwork, I chose to receive what I feel?

It’s tough love — for myself and for you– that leads me to write this post. And it’s that love that makes me think of my friend Kevin*, and what he’s taught me about sufficiency.

Kevin is a man with a sunny disposition. His vocabulary is limited, but his face communicates his thoughts exquisitely. If he’s excited, he rarely needs words; it’s all written on his face. (We have this in common.) He lives at L’Arche, so I’ve known him for the past 5 years.

One of the things I like best about Kevin is the lack of pretense. If he’s not interested in something, he’ll walk away or turn his attention elsewhere. And when he cares for someone– when he picks up your plate or pats your head– you can tell it’s coming straight from the heart. He doesn’t seem to struggle with the desire to impress others. He simply is who he is.

When I think of sufficiency, a specific memory of Kevin enters my mind. It answers the question I implied earlier:  How do we know when we’ve done enough, said enough, contributed enough?

To give context for this answer:  at L’Arche, we celebrate each person’s birthday, anniversary and farewell. In the anniversary celebration liturgy, we anoint and bless one another with water. We gently lay our hands on the person’s head, hands, feet.

Photo Credit: Allison McGinley;

What I remember is this:  Kevin putting his hands on my head and blessing me, his touch filling my spirit.

For perfectionists like me, anointing can be disconcerting. How long do you let your hand linger in blessing? How much water do you use? (Several of our members take delight in purposefully using too much.) And most of all, how do you know that you’ve really blessed someone?

As such, I’ve come to see the anointing ceremony as a metaphor for life, a way of discovering sufficiency.

First:  sufficiency isn’t in the gesture alone. The touch is important, but it’s not everything. Two people may make exactly the same gesture, and it may result in two completely different feelings within the person being anointed.

Sufficiency requires quietness of spirit and humility of heart. When Kevin anoints me, I can feel the love in his movements. He takes his time. He doesn’t rush. His hands on my head are gentle, yet purposeful.  He bows his head over mine and prays silently. He treats me with respect and kindness. And then he returns to his seat, and I am amazed at the beauty all around me.

Really, the secret of sufficiency and the secret of success are one and the same. Both arise from an internal compass, from an inchoate knowing. They cannot be predetermined. They must be lived moment-by moment, in the grace of the now.

As Wayne Muller writes in his book, A Life of Being, Having and Doing Enough, “There are two kinds of compassion and care. One is honest kindness, and the other, dishonest kindness. How many times have we promised, or pretended to be available, to listen, to care, when, in that moment, we honestly had no such capacity? And do we imagine that dishonest kindness actually brings healing and ease to another– or do we seed an unintended suffering?”

Kevin lives a life of honest kindness. And with his help, I’m learning, slowly, to do the same.

What does honest kindness translate to in your life? One day, it might mean scheduling your fun stuff in addition to your work stuff. On another day, it might mean taking a nap rather than returning phone calls. On another, it might mean listening instead of trying to fix, or loving rather than trying to control.

The secret of enough is found in making a believe shift from fear to faith.


How do you arrive at a sense of sufficiency? Tell me in the comments!

All commenters on this post will be entered to win a free copy of

“A Good & Perfect Gift” by Amy Julia Becker**. It’s a new book that explores

question of sufficiency, disability and faith beautifully.


If you desire to move toward sufficiency—to ground yourself and grow in relationship— you’ll want to get on the advanced notification list for the new book I’ll be publishing this winter (which will be offered at a 50% discount ONLY for those on the pre-sale list).

If you want to be on the advance notification list…

Simply click here & pop your email in the box!

And if you enjoyed what you read today, consider receiving new posts via email!

You’ll also receive a free copy of “Your Creed of Care: How To Dig For Treasure In People (Without Getting Buried Alive).”

*All names have been changed.

**”A GOOD AND PERFECT GIFT is more than just a narrative that spans the first two years of Amy Julia Becker’s new life with Down syndrome. From the initial dark moments in the hospital to the light and laughter Penny brought into the family, it is a story of a remarkable little girl who surpassed expectations. It is the story of a young couple coming to terms with their first-born child being different than they anticipated, and eventually receiving that child as a precious gift. It should appeal to any reader who wonders how grief can be transformed into joy.”

25 thoughts on “The Secret to Knowing When You’ve Done Enough

  1. I am not sure how I come to sufficiency. I am often plagued by the sense of proving myself at work. It is something I struggle with. When will enough be enough for me I am not sure. I walk around with an outlook calender in my head prioritizing my days and when the weekends come there is little energy or desire to do much. When I wake up on Sunday, I begin planning Monday through Friday, ahile trying to figure out how to have work/life balance. It is not easy at times. Thank you for this post, not I have something to think on.
    Chris Parker recently posted..Staying motivated in an unmotivated world

    • Chris, thank you for sharing. I can relate; my life looks similar some weeks!
      What you shared IS a moving toward sufficiency: the simple realization that we don’t have it (and that we want it).
      To be able to rest internally…on one hand, it does require planning & preparation (I am always tempted to overschedule myself!), and on the other hand, it’s always available, even on the craziest days.
      Again, thank you for sharing this…here’s to the journey!

  2. Beautifully written post. I truly love how you write – so soft and gentle like a breeze whispering through my hair; that’s how your words hit me.
    I struggle with the theme of being ‘good enough’. It seems to be my lifelong self-question. It pushes me along and motivates me to pursue and inititate but it can also be a real thorn in my side, taking away my ability to simply feel ‘it’ or ‘I’ am good enough as is.

    I will take a look at Wayne Muller’s book. Right now I’m ‘studying’ Jack Canfield’s book, The Success Principles.

    Thank you.
    Harriet Cabelly recently posted..Services

    • Thank you, Harriet ~ what a wonderful affirmation. 🙂 & I know what you mean about that double-edged sword…!
      I’ll have to check out ‘The Success Principles’; if I remember correctly, Muller actually refers to Canfield several times in his book ~ I think they’re friends. 🙂

  3. Tara says:

    Have you heard my internal struggles lately? Because, truly, it seems as though this post is the beginning of an answer I have been seeking since my PTSD diagnosis… more than 2 years ago. People have extended general invitations for coffee and lunch, but never followed through. They have told me they will write, but the letters never came. I have come to the point where I no longer acknowledge the casually extended invitation to avoid further rejection. I don’t understand the pattern. I don’t understand what my lesson is meant to be (although obviously the universe is trying to tell me something, because the same thing happens over and over again). I guess the best thing I can do is open myself and trust that the answer will come.
    Sufficiency? It’s doing what I need to in that moment without self-judgement or fear. Last night that meant taking a barefoot walk through the park in the cold rain. It was grounding in every sense of the word.

    • Amazed & humbled, my friend…I hesitated to share that part of my story, but now, I’m so glad I did.

      I think part of the answer is that many people don’t take their words & invitations seriously…&, because of this, people who DO take words & invitations seriously are left feeling foolish.

      In my case, I’m hoping to talk with the friend, mainly because it’s a longstanding connection, but also because it feels important for me to say, gently yet honestly, what I feel when invitations always fall through.

      I love your definition of sufficiency…and I think there’s a barefoot walk in my future. 🙂

  4. Caroline,
    I’m going for a three mile run today. I’m getting Wayne Muller’s book today. I love his writing. Someone finally put coined a word for those empty promises. Dishonest kindness…now this has me thinking. Loved your piece at Rowdy Kittens.

    • Tess, sounds like you have an exciting day ahead! Am actually heading out for a run myself ~ I read somewhere (Life After College?) that, if you exercise on a Monday, the rest of the week gets easier. 🙂
      & I agree…the term ‘dishonest kindness’ has had me thinking all weekend.
      Thank you for the comment; I’m glad the Rowdy Kittens piece spoke out to you!

  5. Kate says:

    I have always tried to be completely honest in my dealings with others….and yet I have recognized that I am dishonest with myself. In trying to please and help others, I put my true needs out of the way…partly because I don’t want to think about them and partly because I am at a loss as to how to solve them. I know it’s time tom take my head out of the sand….and try not to lose myself….

    • Kate, that’s a good point ~ that, while we strive for integrity with others, we often forget to maintain our integrity to ourselves…

      It reminds me of Julia Cameron’s question in The Artist’s Way: “Are you self-destructive?” She writes, “What it means is, Are you destructive of your self? And what that really asks us is, Are you destructive of your true nature?”

      Thank you for your sharing, and I hope this week is a time of transformation for you!

  6. I needed this today as my internal compass has been spinning in all directions lately. How did you know? Lovely essay. Thank you dear Caroline (and thanks for the link love).
    Katie recently posted..believe shift

    • Anytime, Katie! I love your believe shift essay, & it was part of the inspiration for this post.
      Isn’t it funny how you write with one person in mind, and then a whole host of others say, “Me too! How did you know?!” 🙂
      The beauty of our shared humanity, I guess!

  7. Greg Lease says:


    As your posts so often do, this one has moved me deeply and drawn thoughts from many corners of my mind and heart as I meditated on your story. I’m reminded of Parker Palmer’s words on burnout: “trying to give what I do not possess—the ultimate in giving too little,” and those of Jesus, “You shall love your neighbor as [you love] yourself.”

    We so often think that it is what we do for others that is most important, when what they need most from us is to give them ourselves—heart, soul and mind—our presence. I think that much of what we might call “dishonest kindness” is really a desire to reach out to another, but strangled and still-born by the fear of our inability to meet their need, because we see ourselves as not knowing what to do or what to say, when what the other really needs is who we are to be present with them—to communicate to them that they are significant and sufficient.

    And we too often do the same to ourselves, failing to love ourselves by denying ourselves the kindness of realizing that in this moment “I am sufficient.”

    • What a meditation, Greg! In particular, I love your realization that the impulse behind ‘dishonest kindness’ is usually a healthy desire…it just takes on a manifestation that isn’t healthy for us, or the people we’re trying to love (ourselves included).
      & Parker Palmer’s words are definitely apropos here. Makes me want to read “Let Your Life Speak” all over again!

  8. Deb says:

    This morning I read a post from a young friend apologizing for not being perfect. So, in my usual way I started looking for quotes to let her see how hard it is to achieve perfect. And now I am sitting here crying because I see myself trying to achieve perfect and how fruitless that goal is. On another page someone commented “but what if doing my best just isn’t good enough?”

    This is me on my endless merry-go-round with it’s music powered by a battery run down. I missed the afterglow of being with family this weekend because after 3 days of preparation I saw the places on the floor that I missed mopping, my perfect meal was ruined because I was visiting and forgot to take it out of the oven and reduce the heat on the crock pot. I forgot to spray the couch with Febreze and worried that it smelled. All my pictures had spots on them because the lens wasn’t clean. The list goes on.

    I’ve never had my boating friends over because my “stuff” isn’t as nice as theirs. It’s good enough for me, but not them. I know I’ll spend too much time worrying and trying to be perfect so why even bother. I go to the store in wrinkled clothes and no makeup because I won’t look good anyway so why bother. I try to be friendly with people so they will like me but no one calls me, so why even bother anymore. I post my pictures and make witty comments and rarely get commented on so why bother anymore. I watch what I eat but don’t lose weight so why bother. Yum, that half gallon of ice cream sure is good.

    How can I give my young friend advice on not striving for perfection when I live like this?
    I hope that reading these new materials I’ve found today will be a help, a journey in which I will begin to leave behind of this companion of doubt. sorry this was so long.

    • Deb, thank you for sharing from right where you’re at. No need to apologize.

      I like to think of perfection as not the absence of flaws, but the presence of growth and maturity. (Besides, given that we’re all human, who among us can even judge what’s perfect?) So that’s what I wish for you, and for your friend…growth. Small steps in the right direction. Small, loving actions of care, toward yourself and toward others.

      Why bother with having your boating friends over? To spend time with them, if that’s what you want to do. Why bother dressing nicely? To be kind to yourself, because you are worthy of being treated kindly. Why bother eating healthily? To maintain your energy and nourish your body.

      It’s about creating a good life for yourself, not getting someone else’s approval. It’s about making choices that YOU can feel proud of at the end of the day. And if you need support in that, welcome to the club. I definitely have days when I, too, wonder, “What’s the point?” But that’s when you most need to reach out, and know you are not alone.

  9. The answer for me is two- fold. First, I have had to kill that enemy called perfectionist in my head, being the defeated perfectionist. Which has opened the door for grace. Because none of it was ever good enough. But grace changes everything. Seeing the real grace of God active in my life moment by moment changes perspective and gives hope. When I extend grace to myself it seems like it overflows into everything else in my life. My relationships and my art. Its allowing that inner critic to finally be silenced and given me joy again. Not happiness but joy.
    Anna recently posted..Thursday Oct 6th -day 6

  10. Thank you so much for this book. I am thrilled to have it in my library and in being able to lend it to others as we walk this journey with grace. (with a little g, and a big G) This is such a blessing.
    Anna recently 8- 31 for 21

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