Separating Work from Self-Worth
Failure. It's not a nice word, is it? For many of us, we see failure as a glaring red stop sign. "Go no further," failure tells us, "You are not good enough to succeed." But did you know Walt Disney's first animation company was dissolved within six months? That J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter was rejected by 12 publishers? For both, failure was not a stopping point–they continued to try until they found success. How did they keep believing in themselves, instead of seeing failure as a message they couldn't succeed? They separated their work from their self-worth.
Defining Work and Worth
What do I mean by that? Let's break it down.
- Work is the things we do with intention–the things where we place effort. Of course, this includes our job, but it is much more. It can be the decision to eat healthily or the promise we make to visit our grandma every Sunday. It can be our attempt to listen better or to be more patient with others. Our work is the things in our lives that require us to show up, to be mentally present.
- Worth is the fundamental value we place on ourselves. For each of us, the way we define our self-worth is different. It's common when living with low self-esteem to believe we are not worth much or are worth less than other people.
Often, when we are passionate about our work, we see success and failure as an indication of our self-worth. Success, we believe, means that we are a worthy person. Failure, then, means we were not good enough to achieve the thing we desired. Failure means we are not worthy.
Failure Is Part of the 'Work' Process
Let's pretend you want to learn archery. You go to the range, pick your bow and arrow, pull back the string, let the arrow fly, and completely miss. Is this a failure? In a small sense, sure. You wanted to hit the bullseye and didn't. But what is your long-term goal? It's to learn archery. You took the first step towards this goal by shooting the arrow–now you can adjust your technique and try again. The initial failure was just a piece of the process. If you had missed the shot and said "Well, I failed, I guess I'm not good enough," you wouldn't be giving yourself a chance.
When our self-worth is strongly tied to our work, we internalize mistakes. Each time something is not successful, we believe it is because we are not good enough. Our inner dialogue becomes negative, disheartening, and feels terrible.
Using Mantras to Find Perspective on Work and Self-Worth
Most work involves a learning process. We try things, discover what works and what doesn't, adjust, and continue. Just like in archery, we can learn to see failure not as a stop sign, but as a part of this path, moving us towards our goals.
One way we can do this is by creating mantras, or affirmations, that remind us we are worthy. Here are three mantras I use, which may work for you:
- "I learn from success. I learn from failure."
- "I am perfectly imperfect."
- "I value my courage to try."
When I find myself connecting my self-worth to my work, I repeat these phrases to myself. They remind me that failure is not a stop sign. It is information that points me towards success. I encourage you to try these mantras or to make your own.
And if using mantras doesn't work, guess what? You can practice separating work from self-worth.
Mahrer, B. (2019, February 28). Separating Work from Self-Worth, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 24 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/buildingselfesteem/2019/2/separating-work-from-self-worth