I’ve been avoiding writing this post.
Last time I said I’d talk about how to stop basing our self-worth on our achievements. I’m kind of afraid I won’t do it justice, but I also know this stuff needs to be said, so let me set the stage a bit before diving in…
First important thing: I don’t have this shit all figured out. I’m still working on it, too.
I struggle regularly with running my life as though I need to justify my existence with contributions, achievements and productivity. (Just last week I came down with a stomach bug and had a fever, yet I felt like a complete slacker for calling in sick.)
Second thing: You are not broken. And it’s okay to feel as though you are broken.
Our emotions are valid – always – and trying to trick yourself into thinking positively when it goes against what you’re feeling is a form of repression. Let’s be real, here, okay? We all have periods of time – some longer than others – when we wish we could just crawl under a rock.
Feeling like shit and admitting to it doesn’t doom us to a life of negativity.
But let’s also remember that we aren’t defined by our thoughts and feelings.
Third thing: The point of what we’re talking about here is not to make you a “better person.” (You’re not broken, remember?)
It’s about living with more joy and less suffering.
It’s about stopping the patterns of punishing ourselves for not accomplishing what we think we should as quickly as we should. And it’s about easing the pain of so-called failure.
It’s all well and good to say that all failures are learning experiences, but it’s pretty fucking hard to benefit from the lessons when we believe the fact that we’ve failed means we are failures.
Now that that’s out of the way…
What do I mean by self-worth, worthiness, enoughness and value?
At the risk of over-simplifying things, I’m talking about the fact that each of us is born deserving to pursue the best existence we can. We deserve love and care and to do what’s best for us.
(I’m not 100% satisfied with that definition, but I’m trying not to get bogged down in semantics.)
The key point is that we’re born with inherent worth, and if you don’t believe me, look at any newborn baby.
Would you ever question their worth? Would you ever say that they don’t deserve love and care and to live at the highest possible level of Maslow’s hierarchy?
Because we’re born with our worthiness, I’ve come to think of our poor sense self-worth as a symptom of forgetting who we are. We were all newborns once. We learned to stop valuing ourselves.
Our worth gets covered up with layer after layer of bullshit and lies and misunderstandings and other people’s fears and insecurities that often become our own.
So decoupling our worth from our accomplishments isn’t about learning so much as unlearning. It’s about uncovering our true selves.
Rather than trying to build or gain a sense of self-worth, it’s more a matter of discarding the unhelpful beliefs that cause us to forget we’re worthy, simply by virtue of being alive.
So where do you get started with all of this?
1. Accept the fact that you have to choose it before you’ll feel it
You’ve got however many years of absorbing the idea that your worth is based on accomplishments.
Getting comfortable with our enoughness isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s more like a lifetime practice.
Regardless of how you feel about worth and where it comes from, you’ll need to choose to believe you’re enough, and you’ll need to remind yourself frequently. If choosing to believe it feels too difficult, choose to try to believe.
2. Start paying attention to how you respond to low/no productivity, failures and unmet expectations
Our constant need to be productive, contribute, achieve and improve ourselves is a sure sign we’re trying to earn our place in the world. So is our unwillingness to stop and heal.
Makes sense, then, that when our efforts aren’t successful, it can be downright devastating.
When are you forcing yourself to work when you should be resting?
When you “fail” what are the stories you tell yourself?
Before you can start shifting the pattern, you have to start catching yourself in the act of judging yourself unworthy.
3. Develop a regular practice of meditation or mindfulness or some way of connecting with yourself
It’s important to have a way to get to know your essential self, your soul or whatever you want to call it – that part of you that knows who you really are and what you really want. The part of you that isn’t trying to please others or avoid getting hurt.
The more you do this, the more you’ll be able to move from fighting against poor productivity and berating yourself for failures toward prioritizing self-care and accepting that you’re allowed to feel what you feel.
The more you can accept how you are now, the more you’ll be able to start actively appreciating yourself.
Slowly you’ll notice that when something doesn’t go as planned, you’ll still appreciate that you’ve put yourself out there in some way. You’ll remember that you are not your accomplishments.
(One easy way to start meditating is by signing up for the free option of Susan Piver’s Open Heart Project. Her video teachings helped me to get a lot more comfortable with meditation.)
4. Surround yourself with evidence of your enoughness
Read people who help you see that you’re not your accomplishments. Stop reading stuff about kicking your own ass.
When you find yourself sending compassion to someone else, send it to yourself, too, because you’re just as deserving.
If the timing is right, we can also work together to shine a light on your patterns and establish new habits to be kinder to yourself and bring more ease to your work.
5. Try not to turn this into another way to beat yourself up
The reality is that you can turn any practice into a harsh metric of self-worth – even meditation and personal growth. Maybe especially personal growth.
There will be good days and bad days with this process. Just when you think you have it figured out, you’ll discover a whole deeper layer or other area where you’re tying self-worth to Doing rather than Being.
That’s what makes this a lifelong practice. It’s never done, it just gets easier the more you do it.
The last 18 months for me have involved a lot of work around being okay with where I am, shedding expectations and shifting my beliefs so that my life could feel a lot less arduous, so I know first-hand that this shit is hard work. I also know it’s totally worth it. I’m sending you lots of compassion and love for the road ahead.