Originally printed in Rolling Stone

When you ask people who they are, nine times out of 10 they’ll identify themselves by their profession. They might answer I’m the VP of sales for a Fortune 500 company” or “I’m the editor-in-chief at a global fashion magazine,” etc. By doing so, they establish instant credibility with us. We deem them worthy of respect and attention, even if their job title is all we know about them.

But then our minds begin an endless, needless and meaningless spiral of self-doubt: “Why am I not further in my career? Does what I do matter? Maybe I should have done something else with my life.”

This is something I find quite heartbreaking. Why are our identities — and subsequently our self-worth — so wrapped up in what we do, produce and earn?

While it’s in our human nature to compare ourselves to others, what isn’t natural is our definition of what and who we consider “worthy.” This view of self-worth and how we determine a person’s value — including our own — is a social construct and it is flawed because the way the modern world is constructed is flawed. Our self-worth therefore has become a reflection of how the world sees value and not our intrinsic value.

Our False and Limiting Beliefs

Do you ever look at a newborn baby and wonder if they’re worthy?

Definitely not. But as babies get older, as we get older, people — parents, teachers, the media — start feeding us false and limiting beliefs of how we determine self-worth. Slowly but surely, they shape our lives by shaping how we think.

First, we’re expected to get the grades to get into reputable schools and colleges. Then, we study our butts off so we can get the jobs and professions that are coveted so that we can have the means to live the life we think we want to have (nevermind if we actually like them or not). But it doesn’t stop there; we have to climb the ladder and not stop until we’re at the top.

So we sit on our mountain top, often too stressed out and tired to appreciate what we have or enjoy it. Why?

Because we have been conditioned to believe that unless we get the grades, the right job, the fancy house, the nice car, the “right” friends, or access to the most elite clubs, we are not worthy. The message is very clear: In order for us to be worthy, we have to achieve something. No wonder many of us are tired and unhappy. 

A Call to Shift Our Perceptions

What would the world look like if worthiness was not attached to what one achieves? Here are just a few possibilities I see:

• People would be acknowledged and rewarded for their efforts — not judged by their professions or positions.

• Students would learn for learning’s sake and not just to get the grade to get the degree to get the job, and so on.

• Conversations would most likely be warmer and more intimate. Instead of focusing on “what do you do?” people would start talking about the various facets of their lives.

• We would be more present. Time is the most valuable thing, and yet we feel guilty if we spend our time the way we want to. We always say “I’ll be happy when I [fill in the blank]” and the sad thing is, we always move the goalpost anyway. If we knew and understood our worth, we would be out of the hamster wheel and living our lives the way we really want to.

The world would experience an explosion of creativity from individuals who feel worthy. I know I do my best work when I feel the most confident. Self-worth as a birthright would allow people to share their talents, ideas and abilities with less self-judgment.

• Those labeled “couch potatoes” and “deadbeats” may feel inspired to create something or explore the world, unencumbered by expectations or misconceptions. They wouldn’t be too anxious to make decisions because there would be fewer societal pressures on what an ideal life should look like.

• We’d get to enjoy a kinder and more peaceful planet. They say hurt people hurt people and that is very true. I also believe the opposite is true — healed people heal people.

There are many ways we can unlearn how we view worthiness and lean on a plethora of support for how to increase our intrinsic self-worth. But for now, maybe we can start with not equating it with what we achieve.

When I attended the Hoffman Process a few years ago, we were only allowed to use our first names or nicknames and could not mention what we did for a living. Just that simple act allowed us to relate as human beings and gave us the freedom to connect on a much deeper and richer level. Imagine relating to everyone in that manner.

Owning Our Worthiness

Owning our worthiness begins with choosing to live life from the inside out rather than the outside in. As long as you are chasing worthiness, it will never be enough. It’s worth repeating — as long as you are chasing worthiness, it will never be enough.

As Brené Brown so aptly said: “When you get to a place where you understand that love and belonging, your worthiness, is a birthright and not something you have to earn, anything is possible.”

You can still be highly productive, creative and strive for all the worldly goods you desire but not in order to attain your worthiness. On the contrary, your worthiness as a birthright is your very unique secret sauce to living out loud.

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One Reply to “The Trouble With Chasing Worthiness”

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