Some people store it in jars that they leave on their bookshelf. Some people stuff the shreds of what’s left of it in their cupboard hidden between a pile of clothes. Some other fine individuals iron it out, crease it down the middle perfectly, and wear it as a crisp tie, everywhere they go. And a few creative souls tie their self worth on a leash and hand over the responsibility of it to anyone they encounter, as if to say “Why don’t you take care of it for me? He’s such a good boy!”
But I employ a much more widely accepted method of storing my self worth. I slice open everything I create or do and delicately slide it in. And then I throw my work out into the world. Sometimes it’s dusted and polished, and displayed proudly on the mantle. But most times, it gets lost as just another brick on the wall, and my self worth is immortalized into mediocrity.
Ever since I was a mere bawling baby, I’ve been conditioned to believe that I’m in some sort of a contest, a race, where everything is a performative act to get into the good graces of the judges. Why else would I have religiously recited my nursery rhymes endlessly for an hour whenever any relative prompted me to? I obtained no joy from it. But I did receive applause. My sweet three year old brain traded the currency of applause, appreciation, and approval into gleaming, beaming self worth.
So, that was my gambit. Chase accolades, achievements, appreciation, applause and approval to maximize self worth.
And the pattern ensues. I stored my self worth in everything I did that was primed for conventional success, and hoped it would return to me in the form of good grades, excellent pay, awards, trophies, a ribbon for an astounding performance, thank you very much, medal for simply being the best, oh why yes indeed.
I became an approval-junkie.
I needed a constant supply of pats on the back, for everything I did, else I would run the risk of low self-worth. I would become a deflated version of myself, with motivation and enthusiasm severely draining away. Small fluctuations in external validation would affect me so deeply. It would either cause a depressive episode or chronic anxiety. But the bottom line was that I would feel like I was just not enough. So, I would stop trying. I felt like I had nothing worth saying, and nothing worth doing, anymore.
My Faux Pas
Well, how did this business model go horribly wrong?
Let’s agree for a second that it was going to work, and that the entire concept wasn’t actually fundamentally flawed. Let’s pretend.
To succeed, and protect, and enhance my self worth, I had to continuously do well in societally accepted milestones. Getting the best grades were once the standard for accolades, but soon, they no longer were, either. Bagging a cushy job, and then acing this cushy job became more important. Appreciation was suddenly harder to come by. Doing an exceptionally good job, staying overtime to finish projects, slaving away on weekends, were all just seen as part of the job. But reprimands came quick, for even the smallest of missteps. I was starved for positive feedback, but negative feedback came easy and in profusion.
The bar kept getting higher to garner the pristine, coveted value points of conventional success, and I found myself having to sell more and more shreds of my soul in return for some self worth.
How did I corner myself into such a big faux pas?
Well, I didn’t get here all by myself. Society sure did condition me ever since I was a young sapling with primitive emotions. And for the longest time, I didn’t even realize that I was playing this senseless, meaningless, toxic game. I just thought I was ambitious, driven, hungry. I didn’t realize I had staked my self-worth as collateral, for this allegedly mighty pursuit.
My self worth forgoes the race.
It’s as simple as that.
I realized I was stuck in a race that brought me no happiness, no joy, no satisfaction and the only thing to gain was my self worth, that I gave away in the first place? What baloney!
I’m not giving it away. No, sir.
I’m keeping my self worth with me. The accomplishments, approval, they can come, I couldn’t care less. I’m invested in karma, putting the work in. I’m invested in the process itself. I’m invested in enjoying what I do, exploring new ideas, experiencing bliss, and generally loving the heck out of life. I want to untie myself from obligations, cut myself loose from the invisible puppeteers up above telling me I need to win, I need to achieve, I need to finish first.
I am not playing anymore. But I am happy. I am energized ever more so, because I don’t feel like my worth is constantly under attack. I am even more motivated, because I’m not trying to get anything in return, I do things for the pure joy of doing things. I am braver in my pursuit of things I love, because I’m not afraid of losing out on some society brownie points.
I feel free. I feel authentic. I feel like I have my life back.
So, now I store my self worth in a small muscular pouch called my heart.
And I sew it on my sleeve and wear it proudly. Try to take it. I dare you.