Identity and Worth

So two weeks ago I wrote about telling your story, and part of that story I realized was in telling who you are and what you’ve done, but that’s only part of the story – the other part is why it mattered, why you matter. And then I realized that for all my courses in psychology and the sheer number of times I have heard the words “self-efficacy,” “self-esteem,” and “identity” you would think that the distinction would have sunk in. For me it was always who I am was what I did which was why I mattered. That’s not always the case.

For example:

These are the pieces of what I've done, and they're part of the definition, but it's not the entire book.

These are the pieces of what I’ve done, and they’re part of the definition, but it’s not the entire book.

Who am I? I am a runner, a foodie-in-training, a psychology student (soon to be someone with a psychology degree – eep!), a blogger, a coffee addict. But all of those things don’t make me worth something necessarily; or at least they can’t be all I am worthy for. Worth lies not in the activities we engage in on a daily basis, or the size of our jeans, the amount of money in our bank accounts, the things we own, or the degrees on our walls*. Worth is in our relationships and our impact on others – worth lies in my ability to sooth a friend in distress, to make someone laugh, to be happy, and to have potential to do something that matters to me or to the world.

coffee rule the worldSo I took about 10 steps back to get a better view of the big picture. I didn’t run this week owing to an injury, and I felt like I had lost a part of me. I simply wasn’t whole if I didn’t have my sneakers and spandex. But did I still matter even if I wasn’t a runner? Seems a little ridiculous to ask. Are people who aren’t studying psychology or attending university still worth something? Again, silly question, no? What about people who see food as simply nourishment or something that needs to be attended to at least thrice daily – do they not matter because they don’t appreciate food? Of course they still matter, what’s with all this crazy talk. And while coffee drinkers will one day rule the world, it hardly makes me a special person. So in about five minutes, I took all the things I do and love about myself, and made them completely separate from worthiness. But I still believe I matter, people should care about me and love me, even if I make mistakes. So even the things I do WRONG should bear no impact on my worth.

What you look like bears no weight on your worth.

We’re in that time of year where everyone becomes convinced that this is the year they’re going to lose the weight, they’re going to get fit, and apparently this will make them more worthy of love, money, and success. Nevermind that only 8% of people succeed with their New Years Resolutions, but I’ve ranted on that one enough. But what shocks me, and makes sense on at least some level to my socially conditioned self is this equation here:

Me – 5lb = worth something

Like if you weigh five pounds too much or you wear a size six instead of a four, you instantly become no longer desirable or worthy of someone’s attention and affection. And this logic certainly makes more sense to certain populations than others, but the big message in our society is that what you look like matters more than who you are or your abilities/skill. Like being attractive is the key to life.

But put that in perspective – when you tell your story – what matters? What made your life worth living? Will the title of the book or a chapter or the concluding sentence be “I was a size 4 my whole life.” Is that really important for people knowing who you are? Most people who know me don’t even know my size. And when I gained weight this year no one even noticed, but to me I had a flashing neon sign over my head alerting people. Just saying it I feel a little silly. And then I realized, that I feel silly because it really doesn’t matter.

The story of my life will certainly include my accomplishments, maybe not all of them, because a lot of them I’ve discounted or diluted over the years. It will include what I loved to do; and who I loved and was loved by; it will include my personality and aspirations, and how I made some impact on the world, no matter how big or small. I somehow affected this world and tried to make it a positive contribution.

So what have I learned in the last few hours?

  1. Identity and worth are not the same thing.
  2. I need to brush up on intro psych.
  3. What you do is not who you are.
  4. What you do doesn’t directly translate to why you matter.
  5. Who you are doesn’t directly translate to why you matter.
  6. How you look isn’t why you matter.
  7. Your mistakes don’t make you not matter.
  8. How you feel about you matters.
  9. How you connect and matter to other people matters.
  10. Whether or not you left a positive mark on the world matters.
  11. How you feel about the mark you’re leaving on the world matters.
  12. You can always grab a bottle of white out or a giant eraser, and change your mark.

  13. I can explain why any issue in psychology is an issue, and I could probably convince the polar bears that global warming is a good thing for them, but I cannot for the life of me explain why I matter without serious thought. (No, I don’t hate myself. I just didn’t know how to articulate why I like love myself)
  14. Always test your smoothies before you leave your house. How your smoothie tastes doesn’t affect your worth, but it certainly affects your morning.

*For the record, I know that different people define their worth in different ways, it’s a big thing in psych, I’m just saying maybe we’re ignoring what should actually matter.



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