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Book INSIGHTS: "Never Enough" by Jennifer Breheny Wallace

Updated: Jun 18

One of the topics that often shows up in coaching conversations are the narratives that drive our reactions, decisions and behaviours.


We often receive those stories from important people in our lives or they are important rules in systems we’re part of. What is crucial though is that those messages then become a part of us.


We internalise them, many of them unquestioned.

 

"You are only successful when you keep getting promoted"

"Income is the most important criterion of success"

"It's hard to become successful without a degree from a high-ranking university"

 

Some of them might serve us well, but others may be limiting and hold us back from having a full, happy life.


Some of them might be running in the background like an outdated operating system, even when they are no longer relevant. They might have been given to us by well-meaning people: parents or others who raised us, our bosses, or mentors. They might have been appropriate at the time when they were given.

 

Part of what I do is to help my clients examine those stories with a fresh pair of eyes and intentionally update those rules that don't serve them.

 

But the book "Never Enough" by Jennifer Breheny Wallace adds another dimension to why this work matters. Examining our narratives is important not only for our own happiness and thriving, but also because they directly feed into the narratives of our children and the younger generations.


This may be particularly important to those of us who might be prone to self-doubt in our own lives and careers.



 

As a mother of a teen, I've had many a-ha moments reading this book.

Here are the top 5 I’d like to share with you.


1. High performing adolescents are a new group at risk.


As of 2019, a surprising new group of children was added to those considered at increased risks to their health and well-being - the students attending what researchers call “high-achieving schools".


In other words, competitive public or private schools that seek to achieve high exam results. Those high performing adolescents often experience emptiness, anxiety, and depression. There is an unsettling paradox emerging here: students who are seemingly given every opportunity to succeed are statistically more likely to experience worse well-being outcomes.


2. The kids of today are under a lot of systemic pressure to perform.


One possible seed of this challenge is that our kids are absorbing the idea that their worth is contingent on their performance. Critics of this generation sometimes say that today's youth are being coddled and overprotected, but they're also being crushed by expectations to accomplish a lot.


Especially in the world that is becoming more competitive, non-linear, uncertain, against the backdrop of house prices and inflation making young people on average less well-off than their parents and grandparents did at the same age.


High achievement can be seen by many parents as an insurance policy towards an unpredictable future.


3. Focus on mattering


Jennifer Wallace talks about the concept of mattering as key to positive mental health and to thriving in adolescence and beyond.


The feeling that we are valued and add value to others. She invites us to examine how do we show our kids that they matter? And while most parents would say that their children matter to them immensely, this is not always the felt message that kids come away with. Despite best intentions, adults can magnify the pressure.


There are four components that can strengthen someone's sense of mattering:

Attention - being noticed by others.

Importance - the belief that others care about us and cherish us.

Dependence - the impactful role we play in the lives of others.

Appreciation - the sense that others are grateful for us or the work we do in their lives.


4. Parental anxiety has evolutionary reasons


Wallace normalises difficult feelings that come up for parents who want the best for their kids. She claims that the deep roots of parental anxiety can be traced to what we know about our brains.


To our brains, status matters - something that dates back to our earliest ancestors. The higher an individual’s status in their community, the greater their access to important advantages. That deep-rooted drive can still show up for us today, especially when combined with how we are wired to respond to scarcity.


An example of this that is very front of mind for me are school / college admissions. I'm sure I'm not the only parent who has seen a wide range of curious parent behaviour around this time in their children's life, or perhaps noticed themselves acting or behaving differently.


What Wallace explains in her book is that it's an instinctual response to insecurity. When we perceive that there aren't enough resources (e.g. spaces in a sought after school), our brains default to a scarcity mindset. We might become more controlling, overprotective and resource-guarding. This is not to say that those kind of behaviours are to be excused or accepted, but we can acknowledge with empathy where they came from and choose a better response.


5. Are you role modelling your values?


I think one of the most important lessons coming from this book has to do with living our values. There are many things we say that we value, but would an impartial observer agree that our actions and choices align to what we say matters the most?


Learn about your intrinsic values - the more we build and support these at home, the more they will be absorbed by our children. It's not enough to believe that family and health matters above achievement. Our actions need to enact this belief and this requires us to take an honest look into ourselves.


Do you say you value family time but then repeatedly check work email?

Do you say health is important but then keep working despite being ill?

Do you say achievement doesn't matter but then work very long hours in your business or to secure a promotion?


It may feel cliche, but it's true: our children do as we do, not as we say.


"Never Enough" is a great book that is well worth a read, and hopefully my take aways have already provoked a few thoughts and reflections.


Final thoughts and questions to ponder


Are there any narratives in your operating system that might benefit from an upgrade, especially as you think about messages or rules you'd like to pass on to the next generation?

Are you curious to explore your values and examine how they are shaping the narratives in your family?

How could you show up more authentically in your relationships and show your dear ones that they matter?

 

If you would like to journey with me to explore this, do get in touch. I support my clients through 1-to-1 coaching sessions and / or workshops. If you like the idea of working with a coach, please email me at coaching@martaabramska.com.


 



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