This Article Continues From C: Courage & Confidence (Part 1)
#3: Knowing Your Value (Self-Worth) – I Can
Of all the things that have the greatest impact on your effectiveness and success in life, the value you place upon yourself and what you do—your self-worth—is without doubt one of the most important.
Successful people have a deep sense of self-worth. Unsuccessful people tend to have a shallow sense of self-worth.
Successful people know their value. Unsuccessful people don’t know or are unsure of their value.
Successful people trust themselves and don’t rely on others or their circumstances to determine their sense of value and worth. Unsuccessful people invariably don’t trust themselves and therefore rely on other people and circumstances to determine their perceived value and worth.
Your sense of self-worth has its roots in your sense of self-identity. Here’s a question I want you to spend some time considering and going into some depth. So don’t rush the answer but take as much time as you need to root out the truth and only continue reading when you’re satisfied your answer has hit the mark:
Q: I have the greatest sense of self-worth when…
So, how did you answer?
Most people feel their sense of value or self-worth is greatest when they’ve achieved something of merit or are productive, or when they feel physically attractive and are being noticed by others.
When I was in my early twenties as a medical student and a little later as a junior doctor, I certainly fell into this category of thinking my value and self-worth was dependent on what I did and what possessions I had. If I had been asked the above question, I would have answered like this:
“I have the greatest sense of self-worth when I am working as a doctor and earning money. I have the greatest sense of self-worth when people like me.”
The problem was, I didn’t want to be a doctor. I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t particularly like the job of junior doctor, and I certainly didn’t like working 80 hours a week, often overnight and into the next day. Irrespective of what others presumed was a good job with a secure income, I was grumpy at work, I was grumpy with the nursing staff, and I was grumpy with the patients. Worse, I was grumpy with myself. Even though I was a doctor, I didn’t have much self-worth at all.
If I could write a letter to my younger self and send it back through time, I would tell myself that my value isn’t dependent on being a doctor, that it actually has nothing to do with the perceived status in the community that comes pinned to the medical degree I received at graduation. I would tell myself that my value has nothing to do with how much money I was earning or what car I drove to work.
I would tell myself that the things I thought would give me a greater sense of value and self-worth were actually not true. Their promises were false, and they were false because they would never be able to deliver what I was looking for—self-acceptance.
I would go on to write that, like most people, I had fallen under the illusion that my value and self-worth was based on 7 False Promises:
- my position or status in the community
- my power over others (physical, financial, political, religious, family, sport, work)
- what possessions I had
- who my partner is
- my physical or sexual attractiveness
- my sporting or athletic prowess
- my productivity or achievement
Like my younger self, it’s a trap to get your sense of value and self-worth from external sources. You will always be let down if you are dependent on other people and other things for how you feel about yourself.
If you don’t have the possessions you want, like a big house or the newest model car, then this will affect how you feel about yourself, which will usually be negative.
If you don’t think you’re physically attractive or don’t have the athletic prowess you want, this too will affect how you feel about yourself.
If you’re not productive or haven’t achieved what you had hoped to achieve so far in life, or if you don’t have a desirable job title, then this will also have negative effects on your sense of value and self-worth.
There are those rare breeds who seem to have it all. They are physically attractive, are smart and clever, are athletic and sporty, have lots of money, and are desired by many, but they are the exception, not the rule. Even then, if their sense of value and self-worth is dependent on all these external factors, which is easy to do, then their sense of value and self-worth is extremely fragile because everything is temporary and nothing lasts forever. Fortunes are won and lost. Physical beauty withers. Sporting ability wanes. Cleverness gets outdated.
So nobody is immune from a sense of low self-worth, even the rich and famous, if you insist the value of who you are is dependent on external sources.
Hollywood actor and comedian, Jim Carey, was the first actor to get paid $20 million for a role in a movie, The Cable Guy (1996). At the time, the salary was unprecedented, and for good or for bad it set a new standard for how much a lead actor could make. But he grew up poor and as a kid he worked after school to help support his family, eventually dropping out of high school to pursue a career in comedy.
He is a feel-good, rags-to-riches story, yet even he warns us about the trappings of fame and fortune and believing all our problems can be solved by external sources:
“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”
So, if even being rich and famous and doing everything you ever dreamed of doing is not the answer, what is?
The Foundation of Self-Worth
It’s normal and it’s human to have a need to be needed. It’s normal to want to be wanted. It’s also normal to desire to be desired.
We all want to belong and we all want to be accepted by others. In fact, belonging and respect are two of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which describes the pattern of human motivational behaviour from physiological needs (e.g. shelter, food, water, clothing) to safety, love and belonging, self-esteem, and eventually peaking at self-actualisation, the desire to become the most that you can be. In other words, you’re just being human when you seek to be needed, wanted, and loved.
But problems arise when you seek these things to fill an inner hole in your soul, when you become reliant upon external sources to fill the void in who you feel as a person.
As such, the level and intensity to which you want to feel needed, wanted, or desired is directly proportional to your inner lack of self-worth and self-acceptance. This sounds obvious, but you will only feel a need to be needed if you don’t feel needed. When you feel needed, there is no desire to seek out others to fill that which is missing, in this instance, to feel needed. You only seek out what you don’t have, or what you don’t feel you have.
Like my younger self as a junior doctor, those who are needy in general find it difficult to give and to be generous. They feel a deep void in themselves that constantly needs filling, and so they have little to give because they feel they have nothing to give. Their constant focus of attention is on what they can get.
They are like dry lakes or reservoirs that are stagnant and almost out of water, in desperate need of rain to fill up again and feel good about themselves.
If, however, for some reason they do give, they give with one hand and take with another. Their generosity usually comes at a price. Their help is never free of cost, which is usually an expectation of praise of how good they are, or an expectation of gratitude for how they’ve helped and the time they’ve spent with you. Or a demand for the recognition that their help was so invaluable that you probably couldn’t have achieved what you wanted without them.
Heaven forbid that you forget to pay their price, because you’ll be met with disbelief, anger, the cold shoulder, and accusations that you don’t care about them or value their friendship.
Some needy people might appear to be outwardly successful. They might have a good job that pays well, have a nice house, have a long-term relationship with a loving partner, raise a family, go on regular holidays, and do all the things that supposedly successful people do.
But they don’t feel successful, just as I didn’t feel successful as a junior doctor. Like I used to feel, they feel as though they don’t have enough of what they need to feel successful. They feel that nothing they do is good enough, or will be good enough. They feel a constant longing for ‘something else’, something to validate who they are and what they do, and as such are always searching, always on the hunt, always seeking that elusive something that will make them feel complete, whole, and successful.
Because how they feel is conditional upon other people and external events, they are always trying to manipulate other people and events to their liking in order to feel better about themselves. Who they are and what they do becomes very controlling.
Which is usually fruitless. You can’t control every person and everything around you. What’s more, it’s pointless to try because nothing external can give you inner validation.
Nothing can give you a sense of self-worth or value other than yourself.
This means you need to invest in yourself and not invest in the opinions of others. In other words, give yourself the very things you seek from other people—attention, praise, kindness, affection, worth, value, love.
As leadership expert John C. Maxwell said,
“If you don’t realize that you have genuine value and that you are worth investing in, then you will never put in the time and effort needed to grow to your potential.”
Do you believe you have genuine value? Do you believe you are worth investing in?
Or is your value and self-worth dependent on who does or doesn’t value or appreciate you?
In order to grow your potential and become the person you want to become, you will need to shift your focus from outer to inner. You will need to find that inner strength that isn’t dependent on what others think of you, good or bad, or how they accept you or not, or why they appreciate you or not, or even when and where they show affection toward you or not. This includes everyone—family, friends, colleagues, bosses, teammates, even your partner and children—except of course yourself.
This inner strength is the solid foundation upon which you can build your future success. Its basis is unconditional, not conditional. That is, your inner strength comes from the unconditional acceptance of who you are and what you do. Once you put conditions on your self-worth and self-acceptance, you weaken your foundations because now you’re relying on external conditions that you have no control over.
My youngest daughter recently played her first game of soccer for her high school. Surprisingly, she wanted to play goalkeeper, the position nobody else in the team wanted to play. As the last line of defence, the goalkeeper has the ultimate responsibility of preventing the opposition from scoring. Few players want to take that responsibility, and I was proud of her for doing so.
“Your team’s success is built on your defence,” I’ve often said to her, channelling my inner super-coach, aka Alex Ferguson. “When you have a solid defence, your attackers can be confident in going forward. If your defence is shaky, your attackers will always feel they need to come back and fill in the gaps, which weakens their attack. Your offence is built on the foundation of your defence.”
Likewise, if you were to ask an architect what the most important aspect of a building was, she would say, “The foundations.”
The foundations are the strength of the building. The stronger the foundations, the stabler the building. The weaker the foundations, the shakier the building.
My family and I moved into our new house in 2009, and one of the observations about the structure of the house that keeps being mentioned time and time again by our visitors is that there are no cracks in the walls.
Not one single crack in the whole building. Not inside. Not outside. Not anywhere. The house was, and still is, rock solid.
This is remarkable considering the house is now more than 50 years old, over which time it has copped a battering from storms, hail, severe winds, and extreme temperatures. Curious as to how this could be, I did a bit of investigation and discovered that the house is actually built on solid rock. Most houses in our suburb are built with cement foundations dug into clay soil, but our house was built on solid rock that had to be dynamited out of the hill face into which it was built.
This means that in 50 years the ground and the house haven’t moved an inch, which is why there are no cracks in its walls, and why it will probably be just as solid over the next 50 years and more.
As we grow from childhood to adulthood, we are like architects and builders of our own selves. This can take a lot longer than most people realise. As the birthday card quote says, “The first 50 years of childhood are the hardest!”
Yet no matter how long it takes, like buildings, the most important aspect of who we are and who we will become is our foundation, especially in our formative years. The stronger the foundation, the stabler (i.e. mental and emotional health) the adult we are. The weaker the foundations, the shakier the adult we are.
In other words, your foundation is a significant determining factor in how you are able to cope with all the storms and struggles that life will throw at you over the 8 or 9 decades of your life.
So what is the best foundation you can have? What are the rock-solid principles and values that you, and your kids, can build upon that will stand the test of time?
Ultimately, the best foundational cornerstone upon which to build your mental and emotional wellbeing (and therefore your success) is self-love, the essential elements of which can be listed as:
- Self-acceptance—the inner validation of who you are as a person
- Self-respect—the inner validation of what you do
- Self-worth—the inner validation of why you do what you do
- Self-approval—the inner validation of how you do what you do
This is important for one very simple reason:
No one will value you until you value yourself. No one will value what you do until you value what you do.
Life is beholden to certain immutable laws, one of which is The Law of Reflection, which states that the external world can only reflect back who and what you are. As within, so without. Life is therefore a mirror, and the value others have for you is a reflection of the value you place on yourself.
This is what the British philosopher and author, James Allen, was talking about more than 150 years ago in his book, As a Man Thinketh, when he said:
“Men do not attract that which they want, but that which they are.”
This holds true for all physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of yourself, including your sense of value and self-worth.
If you don’t respect yourself, others will have little respect for you.
If you don’t hold yourself in high esteem, others will also not hold you in high esteem.
Therefore start first within, and that which you seek will manifest on the outside. But you must first do the inner work before the outer world will reflect your inner world.
You can only behold that which you already are, so if you seek validation of who you are, start first on self-acceptance.
If you seek validation of what you do, start first on self-respect.
If you seek validation of why you do what you do, start first on self-worth.
If you seek validation of how you do what you do, start first on self-approval.
So if it is your intention to reach your potential and become the best version of yourself you can be, it’s vital that you focus and invest your energy on building ‘genuine value’ and self-validation, and this you can do by focussing on these 4 cornerstone elements, which we will now discuss.
If you don’t feel validated in who you are as a person, you will seek validation from others and external situations.
For instance, if you struggle with self-acceptance or self-love you will seek acceptance and love from a partner, you will seek it from your parents and other family members, even your own children.
Your thoughts, emotions, and behaviours will therefore reflect this need for acceptance and love, which will be needy and self-serving. You will be focussed on taking what you can get, not on what you can give. You will seek to first receive before you will share.
That really is the difference between those with low self-acceptance and those with healthy self-acceptance: those with low self-acceptance feel they have little to give and therefore keep what little they have to themselves whilst always looking to stock their larder; whereas those with healthy self-acceptance feel they always have something to give to those in need and are always alert to opportunities to help.
It’s the difference between being known as someone who is self-serving and always on the take, and being known as someone who is always willing to help others and is always generous. Who would you rather be?
People with low self-acceptance need others in order to feel good about themselves. They feel incomplete as a person in of themselves, requiring someone else or something ‘other’ to patch the hole inside them and make them feel complete and whole. Like a chair missing one of its legs, their relationships are often imbalanced and one-sided, precarious and insecure. They have developed little internal support or emotional strength to withstand the setbacks and difficulties that happen with all relationships, and as such are often bouncing between one relationship after another.
People with healthy self-acceptance, on the other hand, do not rely on others to feel good about themselves or to feel complete as human beings. They already feel good about themselves and therefore feel secure in who and what they are no matter who they are with or what others say about them. They are self-validating. They have unconditional self-acceptance. They are the people you want to be around because they have no pretense and aren’t trying to manipulate you into giving them what they want. What you see is what you get.
One of the biggest problems with low self-acceptance is that it has a negative effect on your self-esteem (see S: Self-Assuredness & Self-Belief) and self-identity, which, if you’re not careful, can lead to self-shaming and self-hatred, with all the associated connotations of harmful mental health and wellbeing.
This is why it’s vitally important to be happy in your own skin and love who you are. Your mental health will be stronger and less fragile. Your emotional wellbeing will be stabler and less volatile. You will feel more confident and courageous, and your relationships will be more balanced and happier.
You will also become more effective and successful. In The Wisdom of Francis Scovel Shinn (Touchstone, 1989), Shinn writes,
“The first start toward success is to be glad you are yourself. So many people are bored by themselves. They have no self-reliance, and they are always wishing they were someone else.”
My wife’s cousin, Henke, was a young man who had every right to resent his life and the sequences of bad luck that befell him. But he didn’t. He chose to disregard the conditions of his life and to accept his circumstances and be happy in his own skin.
Born prematurely in the 70s in Bloemfontein, South Africa, Henke came into the world 3 months before he was due. To his parents, Henke was a miracle baby. At 28 weeks of pregnancy, his mother went into premature labour at a time when babies born at such an undeveloped age were given next to no chance of surviving.
But Henke did survive, and he grew into adulthood. However, it wasn’t an easy childhood. Soon after birth, the doctors noticed that his head was swelling disproportionately, hydrocephalus, and quickly performed an operation to drain the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that was accumulating in the ventricles inside his brain, a common problem in premature babies. This would be a problem that would beset Henke for life, so the neurosurgeons inserted a VP (ventriculoperitoneal) shunt, a tube that connects the cranium to the abdomen, as a more permanent solution to drain the accumulating CSF and prevent long-term damage to his brain.
If being premature and having hydrocephalus wasn’t debilitating enough for a child, Henke also suffered from the family curse, Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease, along with his grandfather, mother, and older brother. CMT is the umbrella term for a variety of inherited genetic conditions affecting the peripheral nervous system, which are the nerves that stretch from the spinal cord to the end organs (e.g. your feet and hands). There is no cure for CMT.
Over time, the peripheral nerves degenerate causing muscle weakness and wasting, usually in the hands, feet, and lower legs. It can also cause scoliosis, which is an abnormal lateral curvature of the spine. Over time, balance is impaired and walking becomes increasingly difficult, eventually resulting in the patient dependent on a wheelchair and ambulatory support.
Not surprisingly, Henke found his time at school difficult. He struggled to learn the basics, couldn’t play sport, and had few friends. When his final year exams at high school came and went, Henke had failed to pass. Nevertheless, he was determined to succeed, and he returned to school the following year to do it all again. This time, he passed.
Yet his marks weren’t good enough to go to university, so he went looking for work. Because of his physical limitations, he was overlooked for labouring jobs. Even traditional trade work, like plumbing and electrical, were out of his reach. He did, however, manage to find a job as a parking lot attendant with a local company. This was the last job he had before he died of complications of the VP shunt that he’d had inserted as a baby. Henke died in 2003.
When I met Henke for the first time in 1999, he seemed happy and joyful, with a spark in his eye that few people ever have. I told my wife that if she hadn’t told me about his struggles and difficulties growing up, I would never have guessed that he had suffered a single day in his life. He had a contentedness in his demeanour that could only have come from complete and unconditional self-acceptance, that deep peace you only encounter in saints.
Many years later, after Henke had passed away, I heard of a conversation that had happened between Henke and his grandmother, his ouma, when he was a young teenager.
His ouma asked him, “Henke, aren’t you angry at God for all the problems you have?”
To which Henke replied, “No, Ouma, I’m happy the way God made me.”
So even as a teenager, Henke had reached a level of self-acceptance and self-love many people never reach, many people with more intellectual capabilities, more physical abilities, more money, more education.
Even with all his challenges and difficulties, Henke had taught me one of the great secrets to happiness:
You have to want to be you. You have to want yourself.
Like Scovel Shinn, Henke knew deep in his being that the first start toward success is to be glad you are yourself. Without self-acceptance, any success or happiness will be but a fleeting idea of serenity in the storm of grievous thoughts.
Henke learned not to rely on other things for his sense of self-worth. He learned not to rely on other people for his sense of value.
So, if Henke was alive today, he’d ask you to consider this question: Are you happy in your own skin?
4 Tips to Be Happy in Your Own SKIN
#1: STOP judging yourself harshly for making mistakes or judging your appearance as negative.
#2: KNOW that your greatest purpose is to serve others and that you have been purpose-built to achieve your worthy goal.
#3: IMAGINE the best version of yourself and devote your life to being that person.
#4: NURTURE your positive relationships (including with yourself) and focus on giving and receiving love.
This article is an excerpt from Dr. Scott Zarcinas’ upcoming book, The SCOPE of YOU!
Why Success in Anything You Do Depends on Your SCOPE (and Your Failure Too)