Do I matter?
Have you ever asked yourself this question? I am pretty sure we all wonder about our value from time to time, either consciously or not, even if we word it differently.
Do I make a difference?
Do others appreciate my efforts?
Do I bring something to the table?
Do I deserve this position, praise, person, chance, happiness...?
Answering "yes" or "no" is not as important as the "why" behind it. Whether you're constantly fighting with the feeling of insignificance or have no doubt that you're the greatest thing this world had ever seen, what matters is building your understanding of self-worth on a foundation that won't crumble.
How? That's something I'd like to discuss. Nope, I'm not an expert, just a fellow human who faced the same issues as you. So, let's look into this together and examine the false beliefs that cause us to either doubt that we truly do matter or matter but for the wrong reasons.
What is self-worth?
Lately, I've been looking into the meaning of this less-known concept and how it affects us. It's not the same as self-esteem, self-confidence, self-actualization, self-love, but it is connected to these things.
Let's transfer abstract terms to an object, say a ring. If you want to know how much it's worth, you could take it to a jeweler, and have an appraisal done. But does the price tag reflect a true value? Here are a few scenarios that might change it:
~Intricate and unique design that someone absolutely adores (willing to pay more).
~Comfortable, practical, and just perfect for you (keeping despite the re-sale money offered).
~A special gift from your favorite grandmother who is no longer alive (priceless).
~A wedding band from your spouse that he or she had custom-made for you (not for sale).
~Was worn by your ancestor and is a precious family heirloom (way over the market value).
~A historical ring that many of the collectors seek to get their hands on (worth a fortune).
But what if you bring it to a pawn shop instead? You might end up selling an item that is worth thousands for a few bucks. As you can see, the value of this ring is based on different aspects, not all of them are about the stones and metals it's made out of or even the craftsmanship. It's personal.
So, when it comes to your worth as a person, what do you think determines it?
Maxwell Maltz said: "The most important sale is to sell yourself to yourself." (By the way, get his book Psycho-Cybernetics). This means, how you perceive your worth is what's most important.
Not a simple task. More often than not, our calculations are way off. Why? Because we base them on inaccurate or incomplete information. Plus, we delegate this task to others who aren't qualified.
My hope is that you'll decide to stop giving away the power to determine your worth. Become an expert "jeweler" yourself or seek the help of people who know what they are doing. Ultimately it's your responsibility to learn the true value of a very rare and precious gemstone which is you.
Let's start with an important definition:
Self-worth is the recognition of your own value regardless of any external things.
People put a price tag on each other based on talents, strengths, pleasant qualities, in other words, what someone can give. You may even base your merit on such things yourself. But your self-worth has nothing to do with proving what you're capable of to the world.
It is your intrinsic value that comes from a deeper understanding of your uniqueness as a human being. It's knowing what's inside.
I'll give you another example. Children. I have two. They haven't accomplished much in life yet. But I don't treasure them because of what they can do for me (even if I tell them that I birthed them so I can have someone to clean the house. just kidding... maybe). They are precious because they are mine. Period. When they behave and when they don't. When they make me proud and when they get on my last nerve. It doesn't change the fact that they are my blood. They have value in themselves. They are special because there is no one else like them. No one can substitute. What's coming out of them is still immature and imperfect, but their souls are the real treasure, full of potential. I hope they put it to good use, but wouldn't you agree that the unearthed unpolished gold inside the rock is still gold?
You might say: "I'm not some rare precious metal or gem, I'm just a piece of lead or iron." Then why don't you google what can be made out of these elements. My point is, that there is value in everyone, just waiting to be discovered and appreciated. And it's your task to do it for yourself.
The true understanding of your worth comes when you toss the external things (that don't really matter) away and take a good look inside. Plato said: "Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder." So, let's start with our eyes before we go around correcting everyone else's vision. At the end of the day, how we view ourselves is what matters most. When you know your true value, you won't let yourself be sold short.
“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.” Lao Tzu
Why is self-worth important?
So, there is this self-worth theory of achievement motivation that examines how different people approach success and failure in life.
According to this theory (the way I understand it), people naturally try to protect their sense of self-worth. If they don't stand on solid ground in this area and think that failure will hurt it, they start applying defensive strategies. To avoid humiliation, they either place very low expectations on themselves or self-sabotage their own efforts: procrastinate, avoid, refuse, do as little as possible, find excuses, place blame, etc. You can probably guess where this leads to.
On the other hand, people who have a solid understanding of self-worth, are not afraid of a few failures. These individuals don't think their value diminishes as a result. They are open to trying new things, setting new goals, taking risks, getting up again after a fall. But ultimately, they eagerly embrace the learning process and, as a result, are more successful in whatever they set out to do.
So, even though our self-worth shouldn't stem from our performance, on the flip side, it affects our achievements in life. And not only that but our overall happiness. If you feel like you're not worthy of something, then even if good results are obtained, you won't allow yourself to enjoy them.
M. Scott Peck said that “Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time. Until you value your time, you will not do anything with it.”
The value you place on yourself will determine the route you take in life, the people who will accompany you on this journey, how pleasant it will be, and the destination you will finally reach.
Don't believe me? Let's try a few examples. Answer these questions:
~Did you ever try to befriend someone you thought "wouldn't be interested"?
~Apply to a college or a job you felt "unqualified" for?
~Approached a person you were attracted to who was "way above your league"?
~Attempted an activity you're "not cut out for"?
Shall I continue?
Henry David Thoreau: “What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates his fate.”
Did you ever walk down a different path because you were afraid of another disappointment? Thinking less of ourselves makes us settle for less. It makes us choose things that seem like a "safer" bet, but in the end, is not something we want or need.
Glen Beck said: “Sometimes the hardest part of the journey is believing you’re worth the trip.” Why do we come to the erroneous conclusions that we are not worthy? Let's examine that.
What undermines our self-worth?
How do you determine if someone is a worthy person? And, I guess, my second question would be: worthy of what?
This might be easy to answer in some areas. A student is worthy of a certain grade based on assignment requirements. A worker is worthy of a commission based on the sale numbers. An athlete is worthy of a nomination based on scores. We are used to be measured and evaluated according to certain criteria.
But what measuring stick do we use to determine our worth as human beings? And how do we know if we or someone else measured up or fallen short?
We often do this even without realizing, and it affects what we think about ourselves (self-esteem), how we feel about ourselves (self-love/acceptance), what we believe we can go after (self-confidence), and what we ultimately achieve (self-actualization).
So, first, let's look at the things that give us an understanding of our self-worth but shouldn't be relied upon. You probably won't be surprised to know that they are all external.
1. Other people.
We often look at ourselves through the eyes of others, but there are a few drawbacks. First of all, no one knows you completely. Then why would you trust another person's opinion over your own? Even when people have the best intentions, they aren't perfect. Anyone can have lapses in judgment, say things they don't mean to, let you down... Would your sense of self-worth crumble when that happens?
People also value others for what they bring into the relationship. It's normal. No one wants a friend or a lover who only takes, a business partner who doesn't pull their share of work, and so on. But that can lead you to associate your value with your ability to contribute. Then what happens to your sense of self-worth during times when you have nothing to give? Or when no one seems to need you?
Let's take a perfect scenario. Someone is there to love you unconditionally, cherish you regardless of your accomplishments or lack of, and accept you with all your imperfections. It might be a parent, a spouse of many years, or a friend who'd stuck with you since childhood. Such a person can provide a safe environment to build a healthy sense of self-worth. But at some point, you have to come to a place where you are not relying on others to feel worthy. Then even if you lose that external support and encounter those who'd try to bring you down with negativity, you'll still stand strong in who you are.
For example, how often did you struggle with the feeling of worthlessness as a teen? I did plenty. At that stage, we were all sensitive to any sign of rejection from peers because we didn't yet fully know ourselves. When others didn't think of us as pretty or clever, we quickly concluded that they must be right. And if this dependence on others to validate isn't resolved, we carry it into adulthood, wearing masks and trying to please. It's time to shake that off by becoming your own expert.
2. The way you look.
Nothing wrong with trying to look good, if it doesn't diminish how you view yourself as a person on the days you don't. Plus, there are different standards of beauty, and we often undervalue what we have and overvalue what others do. I love this quote by Coco Chanel: "Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself." When we value ourselves regardless of the physical, we accept ourselves and make the best of it. Having a strong self of self-worth is what brings out the charm. It's attractive.
3. What you've accomplished.
Another false foundation is letting financial stability or a successful career determine your value as a person. Great to have, but money and external achievements don't add anything to who you are. Even if you lose everything you have, you'd still have yourself to keep. Nothing can take that away unless you think it can.
It's tough to not connect your view of yourself to what you do. I've noticed it too. When I reach the goals I've set out and have something to show for it, I feel good about myself. When I struggle and can't get the results I want, it brings out my inner critique who is quick to question my value.
We are all at risk of tying our self-worth to what we contribute, our good deeds... But what if things you've worked hard for fall apart? What if you become ill and can't do even the basic things? Would you still believe you're worthy?
Performance and results don't equate to value.
4. Your personality compared to others.
The plight of comparison comes into play a lot as we try to determine our own worth. Before I truly knew myself, I felt like I was constantly falling short as a human being. I wasn't as patient, as gentle, as loving (you name it) as others. I envied people who had the characteristics I lacked or had a harder time with. It almost seemed unfair. I thought of them as more valuable and at times hated myself. Such rubbish (and a perfect chance to use this word I always want to throw in somewhere).
In some societies, certain qualities are valued more than others, or so it seems. For example, people who are extraverted, go-getters, fun, social, have an easier time connecting with others are highlighted more. If we lack such natural tendencies (which can be developed by the way), we might think of ourselves as less than. It's a total lie, of course, and I even wrote a few blog posts about the value of introverts, but in our eyes, the scale is tipped through comparison.
In the same way, we can diminish all kinds of characteristics. We might be innately soft and think that tougher individuals are somehow better off and vice versa. This list can go on forever. It's like when people with straight hair wish it was curly and people with curly hair always straighten it out. The key is knowing who you are and what makes your specific traits valuable.
You can start by taking a bunch of personality assessments. Here is a good website with free tests. But keep in mind that no person is exactly the same as someone else. You simply can't compare something that's completely unique.
Also, we might feel better about ourselves when we are on our "good behavior" and berate ourselves when our day doesn't go as planned. Self-improvement is necessary in order to become the person you were meant to be, but you're not less or more valuable while on the journey even if you encounter a few setbacks. Thinking so will only push you back further and might even prevent you from trying altogether.
There are other things that might give us a false sense of self-worth or (if it goes wrong) insecurity. Again, it doesn't mean they are negative. On the contrary. But we misuse them when we let them determine our value. If it's external, it's out of your control, and the way you feel about yourself will fluctuate as a result.
Eleanor Roosevelt said: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” But the truth is, we often do this to ourselves. Be conscious of your own self-talk. If you don't fully know and value your own qualities as a person, others might never see them either.
How to build strong self-worth?
“Once you embrace your value, talents, and strengths, it neutralizes when others think less of you.” Rob Liano
That's right. In order to have an unshakable sense of self-worth, we need to internalize a few important truths about ourselves.
First, I want to mention that there is a fundamental value of human life in itself. What we do with that life is a different question, but every human being is a walking miracle. King David of the Bible realized that when he tried to understand the complexity of creation: "I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well." Do you?
Wouldn't you agree that the one-of-a-kind unique creation of a famous master is not of the same value as an item manufactured from a template at a factory? It's exponentially higher, and whoever obtains it will treasure it. In the same way, there is not a single human being that's an exact copy of another. You are unique. No one else can be you. No one can express themselves in the same way you do or be that person in someone's life. What comes out of your existence, your imprint, is only yours. Understand it. Own it. Treasure it.
You will realize it more as you dig deeper and discover everything that makes up you. Give yourself permission to go after this knowledge. Make it a lifelong journey. Embrace everything you are. It won't be all perfect (what is?), there will always be room for improvements, but that is what makes things interesting: unearthing the potential. Then you'll stand on the solid ground from which you can challenge and stretch yourself to be a better version of yourself.
There are a lot of things you can do to discover more about yourself. Yes, asking people you trust is fine, but you may also start your own investigation. Here are a few things to try:
~Think of specific situations in your life that defined you as a person, shining a light on your inner strengths, qualities, personality. Even if it was something negative, ask yourself how it helped you.
~Make a list of qualities and traits that make up you. Even if you think of some aspect of your personality as a weakness, list it anyway and think of how it could be turned into strength when properly applied.
~Separate what you do and the results from who you are by trying to look for new avenues to apply the things that interest you.
~Believe in something bigger than yourself and find a higher purpose. How do you fit into the bigger picture?
~Find people who fill you up. If you can, remove yourself from such situations and individuals that put you down. Instead, spend time with friends who can help you view yourself in a different light.
For me, the greatest assurance of my worth is knowing that I was created for a purpose by Heavenly Father. Despite my mistakes, He comes along to support me on this journey like a loving parent would their child. And to Jesus, I was worth going to the cross! What can be a bigger proof?
For more ways to improve your sense of self-worth, read this great article. It has a list of exercises, free worksheets, youtube videos, and lots more in-depth information on the subject. You might also enjoy this list of wise quotes. And here is another post about the difference between self-worth and self-esteem as well as how to grow both. In order to alter our understanding of our own value, we have to be conscious of the way we think of ourselves. Here is a list of ten thought habits to get started.
"When you know who you are—and you're pleased with the person you've become—you'll experience a sense of peace through life's inevitable ups and downs."
- Amy Morin
It's time to take charge of that. I hope what I shared would help you to achieve this peace and stability, and while we are all working on realizing our worth (and sometimes waiting for the feelings to catch up to that understanding), pin these truths somewhere and say it to yourself until they become ingrained. Add your own: