Why all this nervous energy? Why all this forced effort? What are you trying to prove, and to whom are you trying to prove it?
I asked myself these questions as I stood at the kitchen counter the other day, chopping tomatoes for dinner and feeling discouraged about life. This past year had halted or completely canceled so many of my plans - a situation I'm sure we've all experienced.
But the isolation provided time to re-evaluate my motivations for those plans, as well as necessary space to own up to lies I’d subconsciously repeated to myself for years.
One of those lies? That my self-worth resided in my ability to perform.
Most of us have probably believed this lie at some point. I started believing it when I was a pre-teen. At times it served me well, especially when it came to academics and certain talents. Yet, as expected, this mindset also yielded unsavory consequences. For example, with my perfectionism came an intense fear of failure, resulting in my inability to step out of my comfort zone. With my obsession to “look good” came a desire to always be busy, even if the activity wasn’t something I was passionate about (some of my pre-COVID career plans fell in this category).
Basing my self-worth on performance also hindered me from genuinely following God's command to "love one another" (John 15:12). How was I supposed to value others for who they were, if I couldn’t do that for myself?
Each time I come face to face with the lie of performance-based self-worth, I try to re-frame my perspective. I focus on Christ’s unconditional love, as well as the fact that what matters is not perfection, but our trust in God and our daily surrender to the wonderful purposes He equips us to fulfill.
Still, replacing negative beliefs with truth is not easy. If you can relate, then I’d like to share two tips to hopefully aid you in the process:
1) Acknowledge your distorted views of self-worth, and discern why those views developed in the first place
Last summer, I participated in an online fellowship for college-aged leaders. During a morning seminar, my classmates and I were instructed to identify our top personal values from a handout of over 20 categories. I quickly circled values such as Creativity, Wisdom, and Friends/Family, but paused at Recognition/Prestige. It was suddenly uncomfortable to admit how important this value was to me. I constantly desired affirmation and applause, even though I did not want to be prideful. Naturally, arenas like social media did not help; as much as I told myself, "I don't care about the number of likes or comments," I knew I actually cared too much.
I was ashamed to feel this way, and a year passed before I mustered the courage to circle Recognition/Prestige. Once I did, I felt immensely relieved, and spent time journaling why I valued recognition so much. I reflected on my childhood environment which, while full of positives, also presented situations where I felt like I was not valued for who I was.
I prayed that God would replace my desire for recognition with contentment in Him. I also started taking practical steps, such as evaluating my motivations before posting certain achievements on social media. I wanted my goal to be sharing encouragement with those I cared about - not receiving a lot of likes.
Such a goal leads me to my next tip.
2) Focus on sharing God’s blessings
I’ve always loved writing creative nonfiction and personal essays. This past year, I felt impressed to nurture that love more seriously. As a step, I enrolled in a summer nonfiction writing class. I was excited to meet other writers, learn non-traditional ways to tell a story, and write on topics I found meaningful.
I was excited, that is, until I opened a blank Word document on my laptop and tried completing the first writing assignment.
It’s amazing how distorted self-worth prevents us from achieving what God encourages us to do. Panic paralyzed me for days. I questioned why I was in the class. I worried whether my stories mattered. I told myself I was incapable of writing well, and insisted that my seemingly more advanced classmates would look down on me.
Fortunately, I eventually realized these thoughts were not mine - they were the devil’s. I began praying that God would not only help me resist these thoughts, but that He would also help me maintain the proper motivation for the assignment and class. I did want to become a better writer, yes, but my goal needed to be broader. I wanted to reach others through my writing, encouraging them to persevere, heal, and - ultimately -treasure Christ as their Redeemer.
Though I did not finish the assignment overnight, God gave me the courage and clarity I needed - and it paid off. I received positive feedback from several classmates, as well as the instructor. Besides reminding me that I did not have to be perfect, this experience showed me the blessing of operating on God’s strength instead of on my own.
In a world that prizes “success” - or at least the appearance of success - it’s easy to base your self-worth on your ability to perform. To be perfect. To have it all together. No doubt, we may still be tempted to re-internalize these lies. Hopefully, though, we will rest in the assurance that we are immensely valued by God - One who values us so much, He rejoices over us, quiets us with His love, and exults over us with song! (Zephaniah 3:17)
Yasmin Phillip is a graduate of Southern Adventist University and currently resides in Virginia. Besides writing, she loves drawing people, performing sacred and classical music, and nurturing relationships with family and friends.