I was at a dinner last week in New York …
with some business women and thought leaders and the subject of enough came up. One woman told me that she was convinced that having a baby was going to fill the not-enough place inside her heart. This, despite being in a relationship with someone she loved, having a job about which she felt passionate and having enough money to shelter and food and pleasure. Then she said, “Although I do love having a baby, it didn’t do what I thought it would do.” It struck me again that enough isn't a quantity and that it’s so challenging to really understand that. And of course, losing all our money in the Madoff debacle woke me up to what enough was and is. I say this a lot but I wouldn’t go back and change anything about that because when we lost everything, I was able to see how much scarcity I transpose onto the world and how that can change in an instant when I question my age-old beliefs.
Here’s something from "Lost and Found," the book I wrote about our relationships with food and money (and how they are almost replicas of each other). And because this is a topic so always close to me, the first chapter of “This Messy Magnificent Life,” called Manna, starts with the deep dive into what actually satisfies the heart.
On December 10, 2008, the day before Madoff confessed, Matt and I had sufficient money in our retirement accounts and I didn’t believe that it was enough. Twenty-four hours later, on December 11, we had nothing, and after the first few days of feeling devastated, I knew what enough was because, for the first time in my life, I had it.
Before we lost our money in Madoff, I’d been complaining about our house. Built as a vacation house in 1960, it was drafty and cold and the plumbing didn’t work. We sometimes had to take showers outside, even in winter. After Madoff confessed, I couldn’t believe my good fortune to have a house for that day and the day after, even if we might not be able to keep it.
Before Madoff confessed, I didn’t like the way Matt chewed his cereal, wore ankle socks, was insistent on focusing on the positive. After Madoff confessed, I couldn’t believe I’d ended up married for more than twenty years to man I adored. I remembered again how much I liked his face, his laugh, his walk, the way he rolled his eyes.
Before Madoff confessed, I’d peer at my life from the holes in my psyche. I looked at myself and saw the emptiness of the eight year old with the sagging neck of a fifty-six year old. After Madoff, I was grateful to have a body, hair, eyes, legs that functioned.
Optimists get on my nerves and I’ve never counted myself in their club. I’m not a person who believes that things work out for the best; lemonade from lemons is not my style. I don’t believe in angels or the God that most people call God or that justice always comes around. I believe in disaster, that everything that can go wrong, will, and that I’ll end up lonely and fat with moles on my chin that have bristly hair sticking out. So it is a bit out of character that losing every penny from thirty years of life savings did not send me spiraling into depression or hysteria or Paxil.
But even I couldn’t ignore the obvious: I’d spent years saving for a future that was never coming to protect myself from a past that already happened. I was convinced I didn’t have enough when I had so much. And the money I thought I had I didn’t actually have because Bernie Madoff stole it the second we opened our first account. Ten years of statements, 8% returns, and dozens of hours calculating what we would someday do with what we would someday have—all of it was based on a lie.
When you are suddenly confronted with having nothing and you realize that you once had so much and treated it as if it was nothing, you see that the very beliefs on which you construct your life are totally, 100% of the time, in your head, and have nothing to do with reality. If I could believe that we didn’t have enough when we had a million dollars and then lose it and believe that we did have enough—what or where is enough?
If it really was something out there--a definable quantity--then everyone who had that quantity would know they had enough. And since we know that’s not true (the anorexics believe they are too fat, the ultra-wealthy believe they need more money), we also know that enough can’t be out there. Enough cannot be in something we can touch or buy or have like money or a thin body or UGG boots. Enough isn’t an amount; it’s a relationship to what you already have. But each of us has to find this out for ourselves.