When browsing social media, my feeds are regularly heavily populated with cute graphics sporting quotes encouraging its reader to “hustle harder”, with advertisements linking to blog posts teaching you how to make more money and be more successful, with influencers constantly promoting the newest and hottest products, and with people romanticizing a life of little sleep, long hours of work, and boatloads of coffee as if that is what you need to be doing to be successful. Content like this all begins to blend into one because they all spread the same message: that productivity and success should be our focus in life.
These concepts begin to influence people from the time they are kids, especially as teenagers approach the end of their high school career; the demand for productivity and success becomes even higher. You not only need to have top grades to get into certain esteemed universities or win scholarships, you need to be well-rounded too. They look for the whole package, someone who will be successful. They expect students to have a 4.0 GPA while volunteering 100 hours a semester, being president of a few clubs, and playing a competitive sport year-round and these high expectations don’t stop after you collect your diploma.
Though being a hard worker, knowing how to manage your time, and being involved in your community are not bad traits to have, this constant push for success and productivity can have a toxic side effect, where, eventually, people stop making time for things deemed “non-productive”. Skipping meals to go to classes, staying up all night working, and running solely on caffeine somehow become common place. This can be dangerous as it can lead to burnout and feeling of anxiety and depression as well as people losing themselves in the pursuit of perfection. When you put your focus solely on being productive, it’s easy to put everything on the back burner, including taking care of yourself physically and mentally.
It’s not hard to get stuck in this cycle when we are being praised and revered for our successes and constantly being exposed to this media that romanticizes exhaustion in the name of success. This gives us a boost of self-worth when we succeed so we continue searching for that; looking for things that’ll give us that boost again. So now our actions are no longer driven by who we are or what we what to do, they are driven by the search for success. When this continually happens, our self-worth is built on a success dependent foundation supported only by worldly things rather than our own values. This is problematic because, when facing failure, we risk devastation, like a tornado tearing down any sense of self-worth.
This is something that can be especially hard on people who are disabled. Disability can be life-altering. For me, I lost a lot of things that I loved, that I found fulfilling. In the past, I was very much the type of person who had big dreams and aspirations and dreamt of success. To me, success was getting a post secondary education, working the job of my dreams, and being able to live comfortably with my poodle companion. Things like academics, my job, my creative work, and volunteer positions made me feel good and boosted my self-esteem. But I lost these things, a very real possibility that many others may experience too whether because of age, disability, or even a shift of the job market.
Losing these things wasn’t easy. A lot of my values and personality traits were dependent on things I did, not who I was. When asked to describe myself, I was a student, a photographer, a martial artist and an equestrian. But losing these things has forced me to change my perspective of self-worth greatly. I have further discovered who I am. I have learned that worthiness is inherent; it is found in every single one of us. I am already worthy. YOU are already worthy. It is not dependent on the car you drive or the job you do, nor is it dependent on the size of house you own or the money you make. Worldly items and accomplishment don’t increase your worthiness, accepting yourself for who you are does.
Building up a solid foundation of self-worth is not always easy. It’s easy to say that once you get a certain promotion or have a certain amount of money that you’ll be happy but these successes are only temporary. In order to feel your worthiness, you need to embrace every part of your character and life experiences. The first step is to work on understanding who you are then accepting those characteristics and learning to love them. This is where you start defining yourself and having control over your sense of worth because its no longer dependent on other people, it comes from within. None of us are perfect, we all have imperfections, but instead of focusing on our negative attributes, if we learn to embrace them, we will no longer have to depend on others to tell us we are worthy, we will confidently know it.
Building yourself a new foundation of worthiness won’t happen over night. It takes time to explore who you are and learn to have compassion for yourself. Then it takes even more time to truly and wholeheartedly love yourself for both your strengths and your faults. Saying this, it truly doesn’t matter how long it takes because it’s not a linear process, its something to that we need to work on and build day-by-day, a cycle of new life experiences, of learning, of growth, of understanding, and of loving. The more we build up our foundation of worth, the stronger it will be so eventually, if a storm comes, your foundation will be unbreakable.
I know it may seem like a lot of work so why should you bother developing your sense of self-worth? Because you are worthy of good things. You are deserving of all the wonderful things the world has to offer. Having a high sense of self-worth means that YOU believe in your worthiness too and no matter the difficulties you’ve had to overcome, the failures and disappointments that life brings, nor the opinions of others can take this away. We are apt to fail in life so if our only sense of value is based on success, your sense-worth isn’t stormproof, and it isn’t in your control. When we know our worth, we remain in control and hold the power to make positive changes in our lives. We can create our happiness.
2 thoughts on “Untangling Self-Worth from Productivity”
Thank you your post has poignancy for me right now and this was a fabulous reminder regarding valuing oneself, especially during life-changes.
You’re right these adjustments take time, so learning patience is something for me to work on.
For me it’s the fact I’m still just the same me 🤓
Having disabilities does complicate matters, and also increases my fear of failure. I mean how often does anyone take me seriously!? It’s not like I get to know about it. Add the fact we can go years without having experience with work or volunteering which makes work opportunities feel unattainable.
I must say that I took leave of absence from studying my degree and was terrified when i went back, but I’d already put so much effort into it i was adamant I would complete it. I did complete it and am pleased that I did. A number of years later I went back to sit my business masters and my cane used to catch s lot of attention. I found it exhausting but it was the only way to build myself a career. I passed with distinction but it wasn’t long before my health nose dived. Life wasn’t the same after that.
It’s been an interesting journey from then to now, I would never have thought I’d actually be physically involved In live projects again, dealing with people again, or be seen worthy enough to be involved.
I have a lot of work to do but your post is very inspiring
Wishing you wellness
You are very wise – I blindly did what I was told to do (career, tick, travel, tick, buy a house, tick) until I realised I was absolutely miserable. The little things (along with your hobbies and life dreams) that you don’t have time for when you’re working in a job you hate and/or are busy being busy are actually way more important. Great article 😀 Lowen