What if your value were a given?
What if your value were a given? This is perhaps a simple concept, but how often, and how many of us, walk in the world believing that our own value, our worth, is a given?
A few months back, a mentor of mine posed this question to me and asked me to sit with this idea for a week. My initial response was, “Well of course I know my value is a given! I am a successful woman, I’ve accomplished a lot in my lifetime, I know I have the respect of others …” and then continued to list off all of my various accomplishments, mostly career- and education-related: I graduated from a prestigious college; I’ve always held leadership positions; I’ve been promoted to positions I want at work; etc. None of these accomplishments, though, really get to the heart of the question at stake — what if my value were a given, regardless of my accomplishments?
That’s hard for me to answer.
Growing up, I felt a lot of pressure to perform at a high level — to do everything “right.” It was not only my job to be the glue of my family, the captain of the soccer team or the senior class president — this wasn’t enough — I had to prove that I deserved those roles; I had to prove that I was worthy of them. And when I proved my worth in this way, I was affirmed. I was affirmed when I made my family laugh and brought joy into our home; I was affirmed when younger students looked up to me in high school; I was affirmed by the trophies I won at soccer tournaments; I was affirmed by the recognition and praise I received. But how did this impact my value? In time, I equated my value to this affirmation.
This equation set me up for failure in the long-run.
Now, when I struggle to participate in a conversation because I don’t understand a word that’s being used or the context, I tell myself I’m stupid. When I miss a deadline at work and feel I’ve let down a colleague, I tell myself I’m unreliable and not worthy of the role I have. When I hurt my wife or a family member, I tell myself I’m unforgivable. Bottom line, when I’m not constantly doing the “right” thing a part of me is telling myself that I don’t matter.
But what if in those moments I remembered that I do matter and that my worth is not dependent upon always getting it “right”?
For the last six years, I’ve had the privilege of leading high school juniors at our annual Youth Frontiers Leadership Conferences. At these conferences, I share stories and give talks that hopefully inspire these juniors to be positive leaders in their community. I tell them that being a leader is about knowing that you matter and that what you do matters greatly.
There is careful balance to strike with this idea: “You matter, and what you do matters greatly.” After a week of reflection, I realized that I’ve been exclusively focusing on the latter. Yes, what I do matters greatly. But, my value is not dependent upon a set of conditions that need to be met perfectly. I have inherent value.
My challenge as a person, as a leader, is to not only talk about this but also to lead with this. I think I’ll be sitting with this idea for a bit longer than a week.
By Megan Solemsli-Chrysler, Youth Frontiers Director of Programs
This year, on The Character Movement, we are trying something new. We’ll be delving into one of our retreat values each month, examining it on our blog and in our Character Challenges. This month’s theme is purpose.