The Dangers of Basing Self-worth on Achievement

We live in a society that is obsessed with achievement.

Parents are told to embed self-confidence and esteem in their children at a young age, though they often instill these qualities through rewarding their children based on external achievements — like getting an A on a test. And so children begin to think that when they perform well, people are happy with them. Red flag.

The problem with training self-worth to be a reflection of personal achievement is that it leaves that very individual feeling perpetually incomplete and constantly searching for wholeness.

What this means is that we’ve accidentally bred a culture where daily grinding is supposed to fuel self-worth — unfortunately it does not.

This is one reason why some of the most successful humans on the planet still feel like they haven’t done enough. The truth is, with this mentality, they never will.

In his book, A Fearless Heart, Thupten Jinpa writes a chapter on The High Cost of Low Self-Compassion, where he discusses this dangerous cycle and why it is so challenging to remove ourselves from it,

“We’re afraid that if we were to be gentle and kind with ourselves, to relax our grip, we might not accomplish anything at all. So we keep cracking our internal whip. It’s exhausting, struggling against the voice of our judgmental selves all the time just to carry on.”
— Thupten Jinpa

When I read this I sat up straight in my chair.

For the last fours years I’ve made aggressive 3-month, 6-month, and 1-year goals each year and revised them throughout. For the last three years, this process has been an empowering method for coaching myself to living a more purpose-driven life and achieve many of these goals.

But this week I opened my list of goals and read through the 3-month goals that I set out to achieve by October, and then I looked forward to the goals I set to hit by January — and for the first time, instead of feeling empowered, I felt oppressed by my own internal whip.

I felt like burning my journal.

And though I will not be burning my journal (because to burn a moleskin is to commit a federal offense) I will be negating that list — possibly even burning it. I am also most certainly not making New Years goals.

We can’t live like this. We can’t keep feeding the connection of self-worth to personal achievement and the idea that we are not already complete exactly as we are. We can’t keep congratulating people who hustle 24/7, no matter how honorable their pursuits are. We can’t keep reinforcing the go-go-go, do-do-do mentality — whether you are a social entrepreneur, a capitalist, humanitarian, or a parent.

We need to support each other in slowing down. So to start, I’m supporting myself to do this very thing.

Posted on November 6, 2015 .