Are you enough? Am I? Are any of us? Self worth in an accomplishment driven society

Children-Who-Are-Excessively-Praised-Can-Become-Narcissistic-AdultsAs 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!

Realizing-Your-Self-Worth-300x300As 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:

perfect familyWhat 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.

self-worthSo in the absence of praise, where does my sense of worth come from??


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.

goodI’m here to tell you, you are enough. I am enough. We are unique. We are individual. We are more than what we accomplish and more than what other people think of us.

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.

670px-Build-Self-Worth-Step-13And it is liberating.


14 thoughts on “Are you enough? Am I? Are any of us? Self worth in an accomplishment driven society

  1. Self-worth has been an issue that I have battled with my entire life. I was always the odd one out growing up in a small country town where my family was one of the 3 Asian families that lived there. I was the only Asian girl in my school, so you could say that I stuck out like a sore thumb. I never felt like I compared to any of the girls at my school, because they were much prettier than I was, and I knew that no matter what I did, I would never be as good as they were. As I’ve grown older, I have come to realize that it is not so much how others see you, but how you see yourself. Yes, it is a cliché and everybody says that, but saying and doing are two completely different things. I am very proud of who God made me to be.

  2. Good morning Professor Graham, Lloyd Jacobs General Psychology C05. This blog touches very many important outlooks on life. Social media can make or break someones youth, Observational learning has a major impact on someones life at such a young age. Kids observe their idols, what they see on TV, and what they see on the internet, can positively or negatively change their life. If a kid utilizes Observational learning, they will learn new information and imitate what they see. By providing a child with opportunities to succeed in life, you are also providing a child with opportunities to fail. There is a healthy balance to life and the earlier a person can learn, the better off in life they will be.

  3. cc; profesor Graham
    self-esteem is something that most individuals lack today. because today’s society has the “standards” that other people feel can not meet. Based on observational learning (social/modeling) this is where people learn what standards are acceptable in the society. Today people are struggling to be skinny, to be light skin, performing surgeries in order to get certain body shapes, changing some body parts like nose or lips. why? because the society thinks of fat, darksin, non curvy body as “ugly” and sadly that is what people accept and making them have low esteems. What people need to understand is that, no color, body shape is better than the other and instead embrace themselves for who they are.

  4. Self-Worth is one of our biggest issues we battle with ourselves. I believe that everyone has gone through a point in their life where, what their self-worth is or what they perceive it to be for themselves has gone through a high and low. Especially for women, I believe that being unique and enough is always a far-fetched image to what they see themselves as. As we grow older we can come to understand and realize who we are is exactly what we are meant to be and we are outcomes of our decisions in the past and of the obstacles we have had to overcome. God has made us who we are very carefully, in which we should be accepting of. In psychology we went over personality and it’s traits. I believe that correlates with this very well. We are who we let ourselves be.

    Niyanta Marfatia Gen. Psych 2301 C04

  5. Marisa Horne
    Gen. Psychology 2301.C05
    This reminds me of people striving to be like others rather being themselves and excepting themselves as they are. Similar to nature vs. nurture, individuals want to grow up to be someone they’re not due to social media or the public eye rather than what they’ve been burned to do. For example, being curvaceous is what’s trending now and many young girls want to be that way. However that are raised to love their body no matter what so long as your in good health.

  6. I absolutely loved this and am so glad I got a chance to read it. You truly are a blessing and an amazing person. Questioning my self worth is something I do on a daily bases. I am constantly asking myself am I good enough daughter to my parents a good sister to my siblings a good aunt to my nieces and nephews. There is always more I can be doing for them or others. I especially question if I am good enough boss/ manager. At times I do not want to go into work in fear that I may fail and not be able to satisfy everybody. I need to understand and realize that if my best is not always going to be good enough for others. One of the internal resources is having an external locus of control. It helps me to remember I can’t control other people and their actions. I loved reading this and especially liked “We don’t need the praises of the masses. We need the affirmation of one.” Thank you for the reminder.

    Sharon Coronado
    Gen Psych C05

  7. I feel like self worth is something every person struggles with especially if you don’t look exactly like the people on tv or magazines. I think the way you explain how it is mostly in our culture to judge ourselves and other based on jobs and looks is mostly an american kind of perspective because it seems like other countries tend to be a little more personal than trying to impress everyone around you. This reminds me of what we talked about in class about how we tend to think everyone is judging us which makes us seem more self aware in some bad ways making us judge ourselves more harshly.

  8. Hello Professor Graham. This is Brittany Blakemore in your PSYC 2301.CO3 course at 10am. We discussed in class the impact of observational learning and how most children chose the thinnest figure out of the three pictures of women based off of the body shape. We also discussed how much of an effect society has on the way people perceive their appearance. With so many models, photo filters, and comparisons between individuals, it has led people to believe they are not good enough, not pretty enough, or not skinny enough based on their outer appearance. Now so many people think they should have to change their appearance to be accepted, but no one should have to change anything about their true identities. Our self worth is so hard to accept when society has put the way we look into certain categories which make us feel undesired without the right figure, but God has made us who we are and we should be happy with the way we look. We should all feel beautiful regardless of our size. We were created to be unique individuals and to stand out. God loves us and will always love us.

  9. This blog post really describes our current modern age life. Observational learning is what drives us to have these thoughts, and with most being negative thoughts. We watch famous celebrities and icons on TV, and we begin to realize that they are what society has labeled “perfect” and worthy to be seen by the public. We then compare ourselves to these people and attempt to copy them so we can be “acceptable” as well. Reading this was a nice reminder and encouragement. I think us individuals are all enough just the way we are.

  10. This reminds me of one of the many causes of personality disorders. Many of us, if we do not get adequate approval from others (especially out parents) we often feel not good enough. This leads to disorders like depression, borderline disorder, anxiety, and self esteem attacks. Although I’m not a parent yet I believe it’s important to let your child know regularly that they are appreciated and enough for this world like you have done with your children. I proudly can say that my parents were always good at this tactic, and although it didn’t completely stop me from occasionally becoming depressed or having low self esteem (like any young girl) having someone I look up to encourage me has helped me tremendously over the years.
    -Jasmine Homer CO3 Gen Psych

  11. I think this relates to who we are as people and what our personality is like. Some people need to be praised in their life to continue or they will lose all self-worth. I think we are all want to be praised and accepted into society and hear how great we are because it feeds our ego and we think higher of ourselves than the people who aren’t being praised. Just like you said in this post, you don’t remember how you became a person who based your worth from other people thought of you. We never do it is nature. I think that this relates closely to the psychology principle of motivation and the want to achieve something. That achievement is the appraisal from other people. With constantly being praised for basic stuff we lose the sense of competitiveness because we would expect to get an award either way for just partipating. Like you said there will always somebody who will be better and we just have to accept our self-worth.

  12. Hi professor this is Madisen Lorenzo.

    I think this blog relates back to personality in psychology, wether it be a disorder or just the way someone holds themselves up as a person. I agree that society has turned it wrong. We are raised in a society to think that for every little good thing we do someone has to acknowledge us, when in reality it does not happen like this. A great example you mentioned above was the participation trophy (I myself have one of those for soccer). This stuck out to me though because I was awful at soccer, I hated it and cried at every game. Yet I still got the same trophy that everyone else did, everyone else as in those that worked hard for it. My trophy was just for showing up. I say this because it makes me think of in my future if I have job meetings, do I get promoted just because I show up with no participation? No. What would people think of me if I continued that 5 year old soccer behavior, would that affect my self worth? Linking this back to personality I think this is when disorders such as depression and anxiety start to happen. We are so worried about what others think of us it affects how we think of ourselves. We crave the acceptance from everyone around us when we really need to be making accomplishments for ourselves.

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