Why Our Pursuit of Worth Is Pointless (In a good way)
Worth. Value. Call it what you will. We all want it. We all want to be considered of value or to be seen as worthy. Worthy of what? Admiration? Time? Love? Belonging? Money, perhaps?
But how do we measure this worth? What makes us valuable? Often it seems we use physical beauty, status, accomplishments, how others treat us, (insert your own measure of worth here),etc...as measuring sticks. But is that really what makes us of worth? If so, those are pretty flimsy and unsubstantial measuring sticks. Not to mention they lead to that "thief of joy", comparison. (For an excellent read on the harm of comparison, go here.)
When did we start measuring our worth based on the above? Why do we allow other people to decide our value as human beings? Why do we compare ourselves to others? These are questions we should be asking ourselves.
I'm a huge fan of Brene Brown's work. She is a research professor at the University of Houston and has been researching shame and vulnerability for several years. She shares the results of that work in her books, two of which I will quote from in the next few paragraphs. What she teaches has helped me put into perspective my own experience with worth.
In talking about worthiness, Dr. Brown says that for many of us the greatest challenge is, "...believing we are worthy now, right this minute." She goes on to say that many of us have created a long list of "worthiness prerequisites". Here are a few that she listed.
*I'll be worthy when I lose twenty pounds.
*I'll be worthy if I can get pregnant.
*I'll be worthy if everyone thinks I'm a good parent.
*I'll be worthy when I make partner.
*I'll be worthy when I can do it all and look like I'm not even trying.
(Excerpts from her book "The Gifts of imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are")
Take some time to identify your personal worthiness prerequisites. When we can name them, we can face them and see them for what they really are. Lies.
So why do so many of us feel such a lack of worth? According to Dr. Brown's research it's all connected to shame. Which makes sense.
In her book "Daring Greatly", Dr. Brown shares the definitions and experiences of shame that men and women have shared with her over the years.
*Look perfect. Do perfect. Be perfect. Anything less than that is shaming.
*Being judged by other mothers (and I'd add other women).
*Being exposed - the flawed parts of yourself that you want to hide from everyone are revealed.
Any of this resonate with you women?
"But the real struggle for women-what amplifies shame regardless of the category-is that we're expected (and sometimes desire) to be perfect. Yet we're not allowed to look as if we're working for it. "
Brene Brown "Daring Greatly"
And for the men:
*Shame is failure
*Shame is being wrong.
*Shame is a sense of being defective.
*Revealing any weakness is shaming.
*Showing fear is shameful
*Our worst fear is being criticized or ridiculed...
"Basically men live under the pressure of one unrelenting message: Do not be perceived as weak."
Brene Brown "Daring Greatly"
Guys? Are you feeling this?
So how do we get ourselves out of the hamster wheel? How do we stop pursuing false ideals and really come to understand where our worth truly lies?
"When we can let go of what other people think and own our story, we gain access to our worthiness- the feeling that we are enough just as we are and that we are worthy of love and belonging. When we spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don't fit with who we think we're supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving. Our sense of worthiness-that critically important piece that gives us access to love and belonging-lives inside of our story."
(Brene brown, "The Gifts of Imperfection")
I love how she says we "gain access to our worthiness". That means we don't have to go out and find our worthiness. It's already inside of us. There are no prerequisites to our worth. Nobody else gets to decide what makes us valuable. We don't have to compare ourselves to others. The power is ours. Remember? Stop giving it away.
We don't look at a newborn and make a list of prerequisites for it's worthiness, do we? I hope not. So, why do we do it to ourselves and to each other? We are of no less worth now, than when we were born. As a woman I admire greatly has said...
This applies not only to how we perceive ourselves, but to how we perceive others. If it's true for you, then it's true for everyone else. We need to be careful that we don't place conditions on other people's worth. As parents, as spouses, siblings, friends, strangers, coworkers. Their worth is inherent and infinite as well. They deserve to be treated accordingly, as hard as that is sometimes.
The recognition and acceptance of our worth is not an easy experience. It won't happen all at once and we will all have times when we revert back to the old beliefs that our worth lies in the external. Many of us have years of lies and confusion to work through. Some may even have given up and decided they have no value. Others may be tearing themselves inside out trying to earn it or prove it, at significant cost. Most of us probably fall somewhere in between. This is not an easy journey, but, oh so worth it. Don't give up and don't give in to the false and harmful ideals of worth.
Remember. We're not here to prove our worth, but to live up to it. We do that by being our true selves, having compassion, and living with purpose. And mostly by doing our best everyday. Whatever that looks like.
"Worthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is."
Brene Brown "The Gifts of Imperfection"
P.S. I strongly encourage that you read Brene's books and any other books that are uplifting and share truth. Words are powerful.