Self-Worth (Part I): Personal Anecdote

Why Self-Worth?

Self-worth has come up a lot for me over the past few months. I have been looking at it through many different lenses and from many different perspectives. But I wanted to share an experience I had recently that has inspired me to do more research on the topic.

My Anecdote

I graduated from Harvard Extension School a few weeks ago.

When I was sitting in the auditorium amongst my peers feeling something that I couldn’t put my finger on….

Throughout the few weeks leading up to graduation I was on the receiving end of an outpouring of congratulations and good wishes.  For some reason the graduation didn’t feel as celebratory as I thought it would be. On the surface, I could feel the ultimate relief of not having to hand in another paper for a while, but I didn’t feel the intense joy and pride that I was expecting.

Why?

My mind.

Once I had a chance to explore the inner workings of my mind I realized I was comparing myself to those around me (check out my series on comparison here, here and here). The students who were mostly on my comparison radar were the prize winning, dean’s list recipients.

My thoughts went something like this:

“Why didn’t I try harder to get that .5 higher GPA?”

“I could have done more…”

Etc. etc. etc.

As I have talked about in my comparison blog series, I've discovered that comparison is the silent killer of confidence.

With those thoughts running through my head, my self-worth went plummeting.

The Most Valuable Tool We Own

Within this inherently materialistic society, we are constantly in search of more. We need to have things in order to make us happy. But really we should look no farther than what is in between our ears.

The mind is a very powerful tool that we still are just coming to understand. What I know for sure about the mind is if you do not tell it what to think, it will run rampant.
 
More likely than not, the mind will revert back to the way we have been thinking all of our lives.I began to explore why my thoughts were attacking my self-worth on my graduation day.
 

The Why Behind My Thought Patterns

 

Academics did not exactly come easily to me. I was a shy, dyslexic kid and certainly no award-winning student. Upon reflection, this self-expectation of not being the best seeped into other areas of my life.

I allowed fear to overtake me in many circumstances. I feared that if I tried and failed it would be the worst thing to ever happen to me.

It would mean I was a failure.

Most of my life I played small, trying to play it safe. I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of my peers. This did not help to build my sense of worth as a person.

I needed to attach my self-worth to something else, something I could control more.

Therein entered my eating disorder, which is a whole other blog post.

My belief was that if I was not “the best” I was not good enough in general. This belief of “not being good enough” became a perpetual fear of mine, which rooted itself firmly in my sense of self-worth.

These thoughts that have played over and over in my head have become part of my belief system. Whenever I am faced with something that pushes me out of my comfort-zone I want to hide (as many of us do) and my sense of worth takes a hit.

But I have come to realize that my self-worth takes a hit only because I have this abstract criterion as to what it means to have value as a human-being.

 

My Criterion for Having Value as A Human-Being

 

Simply put my self-worth is wrapped up in “being enough.”

But what does that even mean?

Enough of what?

Enough of a woman? Enough of a human? It just doesn’t even make sense. I hear this a lot and it is not just inside my head, but from other women. Having that perpetual fear of not being “enough.”

 

Outside Influences

 
I live and work in Boston. Every fifth person you see is wearing a Harvard t-shirt. Since I work at one of the Harvard Institutions I have become habituated to the immense feat that is: graduating from Harvard.
 
Working in academia has also given me a bit of a different perspective, especially when my coworkers automatically assume that my next step would to be to go on to get my Ph.D.I have downplayed my own successes because there has always been someone who has done it better.
 
But the thing is: none of that matters.
 
All of those reasons I listed above about living in Boston, working at Harvard, not getting my Ph.D., are not problems until I have a thought about them. My thought of “not being good enough” stems from my own thought patterns that I have been practicing forever.
 

How to Change the Story

 

My accomplishments and successes have always been connected to my self-worth.

But that does not have to be the whole story.

By just being alive you have value. You have worth.

My aim is to slowly change my belief from basing my value off of what I do, to knowing I have worth because I am simply alive.

 

My Offering

 
Becoming aware of what we are thinking on a daily basis will start the paradigm shift.
 
Through the use of the thought inventory, this paradigm shift will be more tangible. Writing down our thoughts is the window into understanding what is going on in our mind. I have been practicing the thought inventory a lot and I have been taking it one step further by asking myself clarifying questions, as I go.
 
Notice how those thoughts make you feel and how they affect your overall sense of self-worth.
 

Questions to Start the Conversation

 

Do you ever downplay your accomplishments when talking to others?

Do you feel that in hindsight you should have done more? You should have been more?

Where does your worth come from?

Does your mind automatically put blame on you when something goes wrong?

What are your beliefs about your self-worth? (i.e. If you weigh X then you have more worth. If you were able to make dinner every night then you would have more worth.)

 
 
Gratefully,
 
Megan P^2