Do you want to:
Live your life true to yourself and stop comparing?
Feel peaceful when facing life’s uncertainty?
Value yourself beyond your job and what you do?
Love yourself and stop seeking validation?
Feel joy and gratitude every day?
Be truly seen, heard, and understood?
Share you life with the love of your life?
Be your best self for the people you love?
I wanted these things and discovered that self-worth is my answer.
Self-Worth is the key to everlasting happiness
I was standing in line at a popular donut shop in Portland Oregon. There were a handful of homeless people on the streets and policemen surveying the area. One homeless person in particular caught my attention. She was a black women in her late teens wearing a knitted beanie, sitting in the middle of the street on the concrete floor, with a sign saying “Need $25 for youth hostel tonight.” She sat with her head propped up by her arm resting on her knee. She gazed down, not making eye contact. She looked sad and defeated.
Something about her touched me. I pulled out a $10 bill to give it to her. When I placed the bill in her cardboard box, I saw her eyes light up. For a brief moment, we made eye contact, and I saw innocence and hope in her eyes.
After I eat my donut and walked away, the thoughts of this teenager continued to stay. I realized that I gave her money because I saw myself in her. She carried the same innocent energy I identify in myself. If I feel defeated by life, I would have sat in a posture just like her, with a facial expression just like her. I could easily be this teenager if I weren’t so lucky in life.
What has this incident got to do with self-worth?
It is so easy to associate my self-worth with external standards such as my career, whether people like me, if I feel smart, and even how I dress. It’s so easy to think that everything I have in my life is because I earned it.
However, if I am truthful about the uncertainty of life and how much is out of my control, I recognize that all that I have in life is because I have been dealt some good cards.
If I switched roles with this teenager, everything on the outside will be different, but I will be the same person on the inside. Would my entire sense of self-worth come crumbling down?
Can I be happy with who I am if I am homeless teenager? If not, then how can I be happy with myself today?
This question is a test on my progress in cultivating my self-worth. Am I able to value myself based on internal measures (i.e. my intentions, integrity, love, self-awareness) vs. external measures (i.e. accomplishments – in career, relationships, finance, etc.)?
As long as my self-worth is dependent on the external, I can never be truly happy.
Ask yourself: What would life look like if I can be happy and joyful regardless of life’s circumstances?
Self-Worth is the key to love and connection
We all want to feel significant in some way. We build our identities up via a composition of things – the brands we shop, the career we pursue, the friends or partner we choose, the sports team we support etc.
For me, my identity for most of my adult life is built around how smart I am, how popular I am among friends, how skinny I am, and perhaps, how worldly I am in the diversity of countries I have visited and friends I have.
I distinctly remember the moment when I realize what people think of me is not in alignment with how I want to be seen. I was volunteering at a leadership retreat and rooming with two other women in the program. The three of us stayed up late and began chatting about the idea of sharing, with complete honesty, the impression we have of one another. We made our promise to be truthful about the good and the bad, with the intention of helping one another in our personal development.
The feedback I received was that I was smart and exuded graceful confidence. Objectively, the feedback was positive. However, I didn’t see myself this way and I didn’t want smart to be the primary description of me. What I really wanted to hear is that I am loving and kind.
This encounter helped me see that I am not living a life true to myself. The person I want to be on the inside is someone who is joyful, loving and kind, but the person I am appearing on the outside is someone who is smart and confident. This misalignment shouldn’t have come to me as a surprise because I worked hard to appear smart. I subscribed to magazines like the Economist and Fortune, not because I love to read the articles, but because I want to appear smart to keep up with my coworkers. In social settings, I worked hard to appear confident by maintaining eye contact, standing upright, and keeping my arms from fidgeting.
In short, I was uncomfortable to be myself. I was putting up a facade to feel significant.
The best gift we can offer others is to be ourselves. When we are at ease with ourselves, we give others the permission to be themselves too.
Feeling confident to just be our true self is easier said than done. Most people live their lives wearing a mask, fearful that others won’t fully accept them as they are. In fact, hospice nurse - Bonnie Ware - reported that the top regret she found people have before they die is they wished that they lived a life true to themselves, instead of the life other people expected of them.
What has this got to do with self-worth?
When we accept ourselves as we are – when we know our self-worth – we allow others to see us as we are. Only when we feel secure in our self-worth do we feel safe to act in alignment with who we are and show others our vulnerabilities. True connection happens when we let our guards down and open ourselves up to potential rejections.
To feel truly seen and understood, to experience true love and connection, one must show his true self to others.
Ask yourself: Am I living in alignment with who I am on the inside? How often am I fully at ease with being myself in front of others?
Self-Worth makes us better leaders and creates a better world
Imagine there is a race. Would you rather be:
A. The person who wins the race
B. The person who loses the race
C. The person who chooses not to participate in the race
Most people will pick A – the person who wins the race.
What if I tell you, the person who wins the race (A) has never lost, but he will feel upset if he ever did; while the person who lost the race (B) feels happy regardless of whether he wins or loses?
Who would you rather be now?
Most people will pick B – the person who loses the race but feels happy. If you picked A, kudos to you for your energy. Driving oneself to win in order to feel happy can get tiring.
Now imagine: You are to create a city where the entire population is made up of people with only one type of personality. Would you pick type A, B, or C?
If you pick A, that is the reality of today. Most people don’t feel happy when they lose. This explains why there is so much conflict and anger in society today.
If you pick B, everyone will be joyful. Imagine a city full of people like Dalai Lama.
If you pick C, no invention or human progress will be made. We will be living in cave man days.
What has this got to do with self-worth?
If we want a society that is peaceful, joyful and full of compassion, we need to work on discovering our self-worth. Type B people – the ones who chooses to run the race and are happy regardless of the outcome of the race – have discovered their self-worth. They are those who choose journey over destination. They feel happy with who they are, and thus, can feel genuinely happy for others.
Type B people make good leaders. They are focused on helping all boats rise. They act from a place of positive intent.
For example, I give you a compliment. If I am secure in my self-worth (type B), the compliment makes me happy and makes you happy. It amplifies positive energy. On the flip side, if I am insecure, the compliment will likely be driven by envy or by my desire for you to like me. The same compliment now amplifies negative energy.
Self-worth works like a coefficient that amplifies the outcome of any action. When we don’t know our self-worth, our actions will be constantly motivated by our need to validate our worth. Positive intentions are tainted and goodwill is taken away from the greater good.
Ask yourself: What am I doing as a leader of my community to help all boats rise?
What is Self-Worth?
Self-worth is commonly mistaken as ego because their definitions are so similar.
Self-worth: a sense of one’s own value or worth as a person.
Ego: a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.
To differentiate them, consider self-worth and ego as inversely related.
At one extreme, people with low self-worth and high ego, personified by Kanye West as an archetype, think highly of themselves, enjoy attention, and strive for significance. They are constantly worried that they are not worthy or special enough, and work hard to acquire external validations to satisfy their ego.
At another extreme, people with low self-worth and low ego, personified by Robin Williams as an archetype, feel so unworthy that they commit suicide. Seeing themselves as worthless, they often feel like a burden to others. Without a sense of purpose and hope, they lose their ego and their will to live.
At the opposite extreme, people with high self-worth and low ego, personified by Dalai Lama as an archetype, feel a sense of constant joy and belonging to the world. They feel no desire to prove anything. Their only desire is to experience the joy of living moment to moment. With a heart overflowing with abundance of love and joy, they give compassionately to everything that comes along their path.
To assess where you are on the scale between ego and self-worth, here are a few points of reference: