What is Your Self-Worth Built On?


The other day, I was playing the piano when my daughter bumped my elbow. Suddenly, I lost the right notes. The harder I tried, the worse it sounded. One little bump, and I was knocked completely off “course” and had to start over.

Life is full of bumps. Most are minor knocks you hardly notice. But sometimes even a little thing—missing an appointment, a disagreement with your neighbor, making a wrong turn—can throw you off balance and make your whole sense of self wobble. What you see doesn’t line up with what you expected of yourself. And big life changes—losing a job, losing a loved one, or even something wonderful like a big promotion and pay raise—can completely upend the apple cart. You can start to second guess yourself.

Times like these test your foundation. What is your sense of self built on? If your identity is built on external things like achievements and accomplishments and the praise of others, it will take very little to knock you off balance. Those evaporate almost instantly in the face of a big life change. They lose meaning and value before you realize what even hit you. If, for example, your identity is built on making Dad proud, who are you when Dad is gone?

To stand strong in the face of change or hardship, your identity needs to be built on something deeper and stronger. Something intrinsic. There are two parts to finding a deeper, rock solid sense of self that can withstand life’s bumps.

One way to stay grounded is to clarify and uphold your personal values. When you’re clear on what matters to you and what you want your life to be about, those principles guide you no matter what you face. Whether you value honesty, adventure, compassion, hard work, joy, order, playfulness, growth, or any number of other ideals, you can find them, incorporate them, celebrate them, and live according to them regardless of the situation.

When life is going smoothly, it doesn’t matter. They’re all good! Who cares which one of a million excellent traits is most important to you personally? It’s when you hit a bump that you need something steady and unchanging to hold you firmly in place. If you value humor, it can help you in times of grief and joy. If you value gratitude, it can lift your spirits in times of lack and plenty. If you value family it can hearten you in times of loss and celebration. Your values are timeless and transcend any circumstance.

Knowing your values is a good first step, but you can go deeper than that for your foundation. To stay on your feet when life is knocking you around, you must believe that you are valuable. You, who you are. You have intrinsic value simply because you exist.

Nowhere is the intrinsic value of human life more clearly seen than at its endpoints. I loved my daughter long before she was born. I hadn’t met her or seen her. She’d never done or given me anything (except a backache and heartburn), and yet she had value. She was worth something to me simply because she existed. It’s the same at the end of life, too. Awhile back I lost three friends to cancer within one year. During their last days, they were each bedridden. They didn’t accomplish or achieve much at that point. Yet they still were worth so much to me. Last week, I lost my Grandma. She was very old and no longer remembered any family members. She still was valuable—priceless!—to me, even though she didn’t know who I was.

You have value simply by being. And yes, of course, I’m not suggesting you be a taker and never give. Be a contribution. Yet you are worth so much more than what you give! You are a human being. That is a remarkable and marvelous thing to be. Knowing that you are valuable and worthy of love, and proving it by valuing and loving yourself, will keep you unshakably grounded no matter what earth-shattering bumps come your way.

Sometimes, it seems the whole world goes “tilt.” You can start to wonder, Who am I? What do I stand for? Do I even matter? If your identity is built on a solid foundation, you can stay right-side-up even when the world is upside-down. Remind yourself of your values. Remind yourself that you are valuable. Prove both by how you act and how you treat yourself. The bumps and wobbles will never stop coming. But with your identity built on a strong foundation, you’ll stay grounded and upright and strong.


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