The ongoing journey of self-worth
You were born with an intact sense of self.
However, early on, we are indoctrinated into ideas about worthiness that lead us to believe that worth is to be found outside of ourselves -- in how we are perceived and received by those around us: another’s assessment or gaze or our monetary value or the work we do or our beauty.
This focus on recognition is the air we breathe.
Consider gender bias, not to mention racial and sexual bias — consider all the ways society narrowly defines who and what is worthy or most often, unworthy. Then there are the insidious ideas and lived experience of needing to “earn” your keep, needing to perform, being expected to be pleasing (or not), or to be quiet, having your ideas dismissed, diminished or worse, stolen. And the hits keep rolling, don't they?
Let's not forget the ever-present societal focus on beauty: body shape, size and image, looks and fashion that keep many women from the very real work of speaking up, making a powerful contribution, or simply living fully out of a sense of shame and unworthiness. If you aren't beautiful or perfect by some nebulous standard of beauty, no one wants to hear from you.
Every day reminders abound that to be worthy you must be something other than who you are. It's all such profound bullshit, isn't it?
This dynamic is changing and being challenged, thank all that is holy and good. Yet it is so important to remember and to recognize that it isn't just you. That alone, in my experience, can loosen the chains. Because often, self-worth (or lack thereof) is viewed as a personal failing, but, if you grow up in western society, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to have a real sense of your true and innate worthiness unless you’re willing to reject societal norms to some degree.
Sad secret: NO ONE feels worthy in this system.
Not even the people who think they are writing the rules of worth. Why? Because worth cannot be defined by someone else, by a society, or by what we accumulate or do.
The work that the women I know have done to heal from these damaging ideas and circumstances is breathtaking — and, I’ve not met a woman for whom it’s truly done and over. We continue to dance with healing self-worth on an individual and collective level, perhaps in perpetuity. At least for now.
Most people, for some period of time, try hard to meet those societal expectations. I know I sure did. Of course we want to believe that if all of the ever-changing requirements are met, then a sense of worthiness will magically be ours. Many people stay locked in this game their whole lives and my hypothesis is that this is why addiction runs rampant in our culture — because addiction is a reasonable response to wanting to be seen and celebrated for who we are, but not knowing how to cultivate those qualities because we are told our worth - and every good thing in life -- lies outside of ourselves.
My guess is that you are beyond believing these lies.
That you, like I, discovered at some point that no matter what milestone you reached (more money, better hair, fixed teeth, the right weight, the big house, a killer wardrobe, the PhD, the job…. name your own) that any sense of worthiness and accomplishment was fleeting at best. But even knowing that, and moving past much of it, there are likely places where you experience a lingering lack of self-worth. In other words, you may still be pinning your desire for an embodied sense of self-worth on external validation.
In any case, knowing that there is no external reference point for self-worth is very good news — because that means you are, and have been, moving closer to a living embodiment of the truth about self-worth: self-worth is something that you can only find within you.
Your WHY is everything.
There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting the PhD, wanting to be strong and sleek, to wanting the job or to be fired up to be in the movie. In fact, I believe with all my heart we are here to create, to express ourselves, to master our chosen work, to move in the direction of our desires, hopes and dreams. To experience all that we are capable of and what is possible as a human. However, the difference in why you want something -- for external praise and validation or because it will bring you joy -- changes everything.
The difference between wanting those things so you feel differently about yourself or so you get recognized by others versus doing it because you feel an impulse and a desire and an excitement within you -- those two motivations are worlds apart. The experienced results are vastly different as well: the former will leave you feeling empty and hungry for more while the latter is a celebration of you and all that you are.
The Invitation: Choose yourSelf
I suspect you know first hand how it feels to do something to fill a sense of lack vs. something done because it is yours to do and you do it joyfully. Just off the top of my head I can name jobs, relationships, entire careers, ways I've shown up in public, and how I exercise and eat -- where I Intimately know the difference between showing up inspired and in alignment with mySelf versus doing it to fill a gaping hole in my sense of worth.
So get close to yourself -- what does it feel like? What is the difference for you between these two states of being? Embrace this vast range of experience with an open and compassionate heart. No matter how much you've done for glory, love or recognition vs. inspired action that is aligned with your heart, you have learned and grown. It is part of the journey. Those experiences and that wisdom is yours.
And, you get to choose. I choose to practice aligning with my heart and soul. I've had enough of that aching empty feeling when the recognition and praise stops and I'm left with only myself. Maybe you are done with that, too. By acting in alignment with your own wisdom and your own sense of what you value and who you want to be and what you want to contribute to the world, you are guaranteed to amplify your sense of self-worth through your actions and feel good about the results no matter who else likes it or recognizes what you've done.
Make no mistake, this is a powerful state of being in which to move through the world. Whole, sovereign, and worthy. Let's keep moving in that direction, together.
Tell me everything.
Where are you on your journey of self-worth? What are you noticing about the tension between seeking external praise and validation versus turning inward and seeking your own approval? What frontiers are you exploring on your journey to a greater sense of self-worth?
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