Shift Your Personal Value Perception
In his book Chop Wood, Carry Water author Joshua Medcalf writes: “a value system will remind you of how strong you are regardless of how many times you fail.” He elaborates “your value comes from who you are, not what you do.”
These words really hit home for me. And are definitely not how I operate right now.
Externally Driven Value Equation
I have wrestled with personal value for a long time. Not because of a lack of confidence or self worth, but because I needed to attribute my value to something tangible. By default, I attributed my value to my perceived “success” — was I successful at work? Did I feel like a successful mother and wife? What accomplishments was I proud of? What accomplishments did I want people to know about?
In the last three years, my job title hasn’t changed. After years of rapid career growth, my job title has been stagnant, so I’m feeling stagnant. But that’s not a fair representation of my circumstances. The words that follow my name in my email signature haven’t changed, but I’ve grown, I’ve evolved, I’ve learned, I’ve nurtured, I’ve accomplished a lot. It’s just my job title that hasn’t changed. So how does that effect my personal value perception? Honestly, it’s been surprisingly hard and kind of a downer.
Job titles are such a funny thing. They mean nothing (like seriously, nothing) other than to describe what you’re responsible for, but we attribute huge value to them. We let them drive our internal value, and maybe even use them to categorize other people’s value.
Does Responsibility = Value?
In the professional context, I think a big part of it is that we see a job title as someone else’s measure of your value too (job title = salary = value perception). A job title can be perceived as something that has been “bestowed upon you,” even a ranking of you as a person in the workplace. It’s a measure of your “professional worth.” The more senior the job title, the higher the salary, the more valuable you are to an organization; and earning new job titles is based on our accomplishments. So if we feel like other people attribute our value to our job title, it quickly reinforces it as a measure of our personal value.
That means our value equation is as follows:
Responsibility + Accomplishments = Value
After three years of no change, and feelings of misplacement because of that, I find myself desperately searching for value outside of those measures.
Freedom in Personal Value
Maybe that’s why the words from Joshua Medcalf’s book resonated so much. Your value comes from who you are, not what you do. Read it again.
How freeing is that?
Do I like myself as a person? Yes. Am I proud of myself as a person? Absolutely. Do I strive to be the best person I can? Always.
My existence is enough. I am valuable for being me. It’s not about job title, or salary, or experience or even competence. Those things are all great (and part of striving to be my best self is pursuit of personal goals), but my value doesn’t come from them. I’m of equal value as a person with or without those things.
Maybe it’s just about giving your best. And we can all do that (most days).
Freedom to Fail
If we are able to find freedom in a simple personal value statement, what else can we find freedom from?
If our personal value comes from who you are, not what we’ve accomplished, does it impact ability to take risks? Yes! And that’s really important.
By nature, I am risk averse. I like to plan, to control, to take one step at a time. I’m not a jump in with two feet type of woman. I’m methodical, I’m considerate, I’m even proactive. But I’m not a risk taker. And I think a big part of that is because I’m afraid.
What am I afraid of exactly? Is it failing? In part. Is it having egg on my face? That’s a part too. Is it about disappointing others? That might be the biggest part.
I’m risk averse. And I’m a people pleaser. Fun combo! I really, really care about what other people think of me. Hence the value I find in my job title maybe (as I said before, it’s a measure of external value). That means, if I “fail” at something, I’m worried about how it will effect other people’s perception of me.. and subsequently, their value of me (and then my perception/value of myself).
Let’s add that thinking into our value equation:
Accomplishments — Failures = Value
It’s no wonder that with this accomplishments minus failures equation that we would avoid risks. By nature, taking a risk means there is a likelihood of a less than desirable outcome. Now, I’m not a gambler, but even I don’t like those odds. If we feel like the less than desirable outcome will impact people’s perception of us (think disappointed dad) and subsequently our personal value, no wonder we won’t go down the risk path.
Side note: I guess the next question is… why do I feel like failure would result in disappointment? Will explore that another day.
So what if we can let go of all of that? If our value comes from who we are, not what we do, what changes? A lot changes. Our equation changes, because the risks we take no longer effect the value equation. They are an inconsequential variable.
Now: Existence = Value
You tried something and failed? Your value doesn’t change. You tried something and succeeded? Your value doesn’t change. If you take the accomplishment variable out of the equation, it’s a lot easier to stomach ups and downs!
I don’t know about you, but for me that’s incredibly freeing.
Questions for Reflection:
- Where does your personal value come from?
2. What accomplishments are you measuring?
3. What “success” metrics do you need to let go of?
4. If your value is about who you are, not what you do, what traits are important to you?
5. If your value is about who you are, not what you do, what freedom can you find? What risks would you be willing to take?