As parents, grandparents, friends, and even strangers, we love to heap praise on little people. Affirmation is a good thing. It helps children develop a sense of self, a sense of innate worth, and it helps to cultivate their interests.
“Oh, look how pretty you are!”
“You are quite the little artist!”
“You’re the best little athlete I’ve ever seen! (Here’s your participation trophy! 😉 )”
However, sometimes, too much praise can have a downside. Our worth becomes linked to that praise, and as we transition from children into adults and the stream of praise inevitably slows to a trickle and eventually even the trickle dwindles…it can have a huge impact on how we view our intrinsic value.
From the time I was little, I have based my worth on what others thought of me. I don’t know when or how it happened, but somewhere along the way, I starting viewing my worth as a person based on the praise and affirmation I received from others.
While I was young, that method, though unhealthy at best, did keep my sense of worth fairly intact. But, as my looks have waned, my opportunities to show off my talents have disappeared (high school with all the games and concerts and competitions), and my to-do list has become so insurmountable, my self-worth has taken a hit. Where praise used to continually buffet my ego up, now the sound of crickets fills their absence and instead drive my sense of worth down.
I am just your average, struggling, middle age woman gone slightly soft and sprouting new wrinkles seemingly daily. And frankly, sometimes I feel like I downright suck at this balancing act we expect of working mothers.
If I base my self worth on what I do, well, I seem all too aware of what I’m not doing, or not doing well, rather than having a tidy little “Job well done!” accomplishment list to boost my ego! Not a recipe for accomplishment based self worth!
As Americans, when we reach adulthood, we tend to place our value in our job title. Our worth comes from being able to say, “I’m a doctor” or “I’m a teacher” or whatever it is we do. I believe that this feeds in to our problem.
This is not the case in most other countries. Many of them find it exceedingly odd that when asked about themselves, most Americans state their occupation instead of sharing who they are. I understand their confusion– it is not what we do, but who we are that shapes us. I believe that this sheds light on the systemic problem in American culture: that our worth is based on outward things, how we look and what we do (jobs, talents, etc.).
The messages we receive from the media reinforce this concept. If we are not beautiful (and we never can be beautiful enough) we’re less than enough. If we don’t have something to set us apart from the main mass of people, we are ordinary, and there is just something not enough about being ordinary. Social media, where everyone flaunts their successes and hides their failures tends to exacerbate the issue. That classmate is doing more than we are. Her family looks more like the American ideal of the perfect family than my own. She looks younger…skinnier…prettier…than I do.
In her book, “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown she looks at it this way:
What makes this constant assessing and comparing so self-defeating is that we are often comparing our lives, our marriages, our families and our communities to unattainable, media-driven visions of perfection, or we’re holding up our reality against our own fictional account of how great someone else is.
We look, we compare, and we come out feeling as if we’ve lost.
But we’re looking at it all wrong.
Who was more influential on the world stage than Jesus himself? Whether you believe Him to the son of God or not, his impact on the world as we know it is undeniable. He influenced the face of civilization as we know it, but for the first thirty years of his life, he accomplished very little. The Bible is relatively silent on those years. The assumption could easily be made that in those years, He would have appeared as somewhat ordinary–He wasn’t ordinary–but to the eyes of others He would have seemed that way. He wasn’t earning accolades or heaps of recognition. There wasn’t a stream of praise and awards coming His way. He was just who He was–and who He was was enough.
In fact, it was so much enough, that, before all the miracles He would do, before all the people He would affect, before all the ways He would rock the world and make it into something new–before all of that, God declares: “This is my son in whom I am well pleased.”
God was pleased–not by what Jesus had done or would do–but by who he was.
Wow. Jesus didn’t have to do a thing. Who He was was enough.
In recent days, I have spent a lot of time thinking about this.
My accomplishments feel few and far between these days. My shortcomings, my failures, my imperfections, on the other hand, seem glaring–mountains that overshadow everything else.
When we hit these stages in our life, how do we navigate them? How do we find a sense of self worth?
I remind myself of God’s pleasure in Jesus. But, He was Jesus after all–clearly exceptional–the whole God in man thing…can it possibly translate all the way down to us? Imperfect, clearly not god-like beings that we are?
Yes. It can, and I look at my children as proof.
I think they’re amazing. They haven’t won any great awards. They’re not skipping grades for their brilliance. They don’t have a wall full of trophies and a fridge covered with awards.
What they do and achieve, well, yes I’m proud of that, but, the truth is, in my eyes, it doesn’t make them more than they already are–I marvel at them. They are more lovely than the British crown jewels, and they are worth more too. Not because of what they have achieved. Not because of what they do–but because they are so uniquely themselves and there is infinite value in that.
I am always amazed by Gavin’s problem solving ability. He’s always working an angle to get what he wants, to find a solution, to reach the desired outcome. If one thing doesn’t work, he just tries another approach, and another, and another, until, finally, the result he desires is achieved. His tenacity is amazing!
And Arabelle. Her kindness. The way she is always reaching out to those in need, nurturing and loving them, giving away what little she has for the benefit of someone else. She won’t win any awards for that. She won’t get any trophies. But I marvel at her selflessness!
And Lily, Lily is like the sun pushing through the clouds. No matter how bad your day, no matter how bad your mood, she flits in, and, with her smile, with her joy, with her complete optimism that you are wonderful and worthy to be loved and the world is good despite the setbacks…she loves freely, she forgives without hesitation, and she will believe in you even when you don’t believe in yourself. No one will hand her a medal for this. No one will tell her what she’s accomplished–but who she is–she is so incredibly special!
From a parent’s eyes, it’s so easy to see that it’s not about what we do–but from our adult eyes, looking at ourselves, it is much harder.
When we base our worth in what others think of us, what we accomplish, and the praise we receive, we are always going to feel that we aren’t enough. We’re not pretty enough, not smart enough, not talented enough, not organized enough. We’re never going to get enough done or accomplished. We will always be left with the aching words “not enough.”
There is always going to be somebody better. Somebody more.
But our worth is not results driven. It is not a comparison analysis of those around us.
Our worth is undeniable, incomparable–and has nothing to do with what we do, or do not, accomplish.
We don’t need the praises of the masses. We need the affirmation of one.
And if I am doing the best I can, if I am looking to Him and allowing Him to mold me and make me into whoever it is He wants me to be–then He looks at me and says “This is my daughter in whom I am pleased.”
And that is all that any of us needs.
I don’t need to be perfect (I never can be). I don’t to be free of mistakes (I make them frequently). I don’t need to be great and do great things. And I don’t need to be better than those around me.
I just need to do the best that I can and know that it is enough.
It is enough.
That is worth.