The other week saw me once again get my butt-kicked in one part of life but which thankfully, led to a moment of realisation and helped to shine some light on another piece of shadow. Uncovering, acknowledging and growing various parts of myself has been a common theme throughout the last year or so. What came up recently was how my own identity and self-worth have been forged around what I am doing, producing or accomplishing. Self-worth, output and identity are all extremely important, but become dangerous when left to rule your entire internal and external systems.
My productive past
Here’s where the issue lies. I have always (mostly subconsciously) measured my own self-worth based on my outputs. That includes my levels of productivity, achievements and whether or not I am fulfilling the tasks that are set for me or set by me. I get immense satisfaction from ticking off each chore on my to-do list. I sleep easy at the end of those days where I have moved forward in some way – whether that is improvement in the gym, words written for an essay or some new blog content planned. It is part of the story that I tell myself at the end of each day. I’ll be the first to admit it – I can sometimes be obsessed with self-improvement.
In some respects, I believe that this is a great attribute to possess. It led me to the creation of this blog. On a whole, it is the very essence of this blog. It has for as long as I remember, also been the essence of my life. How can I make this better? How can I improve on that aspect? This side of me has led me on to this path and sharing what I hope to be useful information for you as I search for what works for me. I love this path that I am on and for that, I am grateful for the ‘self-improvement gene’ that I possess.
However, serious issues strike when the productivity and output stops. The other week I had a really nasty eye infection. It came out of nowhere, swelled so big that it essentially closed my left eye completely and kept switching between being very sore to touch to very itchy. Not a pleasant combo as you can imagine. Anyway, it meant I couldn’t do very much work at all since staring at either a phone or laptop screen for too long really hurt. I couldn’t go to the gym because I was an infected human. I wasn’t do anything of use for myself or for my friends.
I felt useless.
I have always been able to find some sort of productive thing to do or output to put out into the world to reinforce my own validation and self-worth. When I had surgery on my knee a few months ago, I could still work on my laptop while I was sat at home recovering. Other times when I have been sick I have still been able to at least read and ‘make something of my day’. Not in this recent instance. Productivity stopped, output stopped and everything that I had planned for that day was put on hold.
That’s when I had the moment of realisation and my own issue staring me right in the face.
Identity and self-worth
As it turns out, forging your whole identity and self-worth around what you do and what you accomplish isn’t really a smart value to hold. Guess why? Because some days you either aren’t going to be able to do what you want to do or for whatever reason, you just won’t do what you want to do. If the identity that you have given yourself fuels your own idea of validation and self-worth, then you are going to have a tricky ol’ time. Whether you forge your identity around being productive and useful like me or build it around your appearance, your job title, your biceps or whatever it may be, you are likely to run into some serious problems down the road if your ‘identity’ becomes compromised or threatened in any way.
These superficial measurements of self are like building your perfect, grand sand castle by the shore. Sooner or the later the tide is going to come and take it all away and what will be left are just the foundations. Your core foundations – so it is going to be worth building something worthwhile.
It is impossible to be useful and productive every day of your life, probably even for a decent majority of it. Time will change appearance and unexpected, serious sporting injuries often leave athletes in a major identity and validation crisis. Beating yourself up about these things is a prime example of not being fair with yourself.
Growth and moving forward
So what am I doing to try and move away from this? First of all, I need to recognise that this sort of unrelenting, self-improving obsession is still an important part of who I am, not who I am. The comfort of knowing that when that part of me changes, pauses or stops altogether, there are other parts of me too that are just as essential to being worthy. Just as the athlete with a serious injury may forget that as well as an athlete they are also a husband, father, brother, human, lover, carer, sharer, laugher etc. I am working to remember that even when I only tick off 2 out of the 15 things on my to-do list or I if can’t do anything at all for myself or others in certain situations, I am still as worthy as if I had ticked all 15 things off. As Aubrey Marcus put it after his car accident:
I have to know that the breather, the thinker, the lover… that’s enough. That’s who I am, and that’s what’s worthy of love.