You've done a lot.
“You’ve done a lot.” An acquaintance said this to me recently after asking, “What has been formative for your life?” (We were partners in an active listening training.) I shared with her about my upbringing, my paid work, years of studying theology, presence amid #Charlottesville violence, being a hospital chaplain, motherhood, marriage, music, and more. The Story of Jenny.
What’s important here is not what I have done, but the feelings that washed over me when she said those words: “You’ve done a lot.”
My eyes welled up, and I actually felt light-headed. In rapid succession, I felt surprise, followed by overwhelming relief, and then a distinct sadness. It shook me.
Why did I react so strongly? Though she is lovely, I don’t really care what my training partner thinks. What matters is that her words struck me as true. I have done a lot. It was an epiphany to hear, from someone I just met, that my life has such weight.
I feel like my work isn’t done.
My children are still children. The world is not what I dream it could be. I have ideas, and I have energy. Never mind the practical reality that my life and responsibilities require income; I’m talking about an inner reality. This, I think, is a healthy kind of reaching. I can do more, and I will. This makes me feel proud.
However, ambition can morph into under-achievement anxiety. In my case, I’m not sure exactly what the missing achievement is. Perhaps it's a certain level of influence or attention for my work. Maybe it’s a degree of financial freedom. Regardless, a vague sense of “not enough” is unhealthy, for me at least. It feels like rudderless striving, which my more enlightened self knows is unsatisfying — and unsatisfy-able.
So, not only did “you’ve done a lot” evoke a sense of relief in me, but it also made me sad. The words came as an observation, without judgment or affirmation. My partner simply held up a mirror for me to see myself. What I saw was a woman of substance, who has been waiting for external validation. The juxtaposition of that beauty and yearning made me ache.
I’m sharing this because I suspect that many people feel a similar contradiction.
We do glimpse ourselves clearly from time to time, but we often miss the big picture. Most of us are still reaching for external indicators of success, worth, or accomplishment, when what we really need lies within. This struggle is not something to be ashamed of; it simply makes us human. But we can push against it with acceptance, another human quality.
Here’s the thing: We have all done a lot. It doesn’t matter what our lists look like, or what our resumes boast. We have worked. We have cared for our loved ones. We have shown up for our communities. We have mourned. We have danced. We have suffered. We have loved. We have done it all imperfectly, but every one of us has lived.
What would we do or stop doing if we internalized this? What would you do? Take a moment to really see yourself. Say aloud, “I have done a lot.” Believe it. How does it feel? What matters, looking back at your life? And what matters, looking forward?
Friends, you’ve done a lot. Let that sink in.
What would the world look like, if everyone practiced self-acceptance? I believe that it would look gentler and more just. I believe that we collectively cling to unjust structures because we trust power and comfort more than one another. We grasp for control, when we should grasp our shared humanity. These weaknesses, I believe, will persist until each of us embraces our own humanity.
So, in the spirit of that connection between self-love and a gentler world, I offer this hope: May we accept ourselves. May we trust one another. May we rest easy in the knowledge that we are whole — each of us, in this moment, just as we are.