My Value Is not based on my accomplishements
The simple declaration that saved my life
November 30, 2020
Looking back, I’m not sure where I went off the rails, but it’s safe to say that I was broken.
As a newly labeled entrepreneur, I was living in a world of faster, smarter, better, and stronger. Instead of gold stars, I had begun blindly striving for adjectives such as productive and efficient at all costs.
It didn’t matter that one of the reasons I had quit my job was to become happier, more mindful, and more in charge of my destiny. All I was focused on was output and optimization.
God, I loved that word. It seemed so pure and positive. Little did I know that it was slowly ruining my life.
Optimization Over Everything
I became obsessed with fine-tuning my behaviors to ensure optimal outcomes. Instead of mindfully enjoying the activities of my daily life, everything became a procedure to be optimized, shortened, and enhanced.
I could no longer sit down and eat a meal in silence because that would waste too much time. I had to either make phone calls, listen to a podcast, read a book, or learn something new on YouTube. I vowed to have no idle time where I was simply doing one thing. Instead, I would maximize my free time by stuffing it with unresolved items from my to-do list.
It didn’t matter whether I was on my morning walk or making dinner, my headphones were glued to my ears. I went through entire days without speaking to my roommates because I was “too busy learning.”
My moments of solitude and stillness were replaced by other people telling me what they thought about the world. About what I should do with my life. About what type of person I should become.
As if I had forgotten that I too was capable of experiencing the world on my own, I began looking outward for answers that can only be found inside the heart of whoever is asking.
Red Flags & Reading Lists
I’ve always been a fan of reading two books at once: one fiction and one nonfiction. I usually read the nonfiction book in the morning when I am more focused and I save the fiction for just before bedtime. There’s something special about being spirited off into someone else’s imagined world just before you enter your own dreamland.
When I decided to add a third book into the mix, everything was going great. Even when books four and five joined my daily reading regimen I still felt like I had things under control.
Then one day I had two sudden realizations. The first was that I was reading six books and listening to two audiobooks all at the same time. The second was that I had a serious problem.
I was no longer the captain of my own ship. I had let my desire to achieve and check-the-box completely consume my life. Even my morning routine, which has always been sacred to me, had somehow expanded to over 10 things. I no longer wanted to get out of bed in the morning because my life had begun to feel like a laundry list of chores instead of beautiful moments.
The Root Cause
Optimization had become more than a goal of mine, it had become a hiding place. I began telling myself that the more tasks I could cross off my to-do list, the more valuable I would become as a person. Why? Because successful people got shit done.
And then I made a huge mistake. I began equating my value as a human being to the number of activities I was able to accomplish each day.
Things got worse when I realized that successfully completing a bunch of unimportant tasks made me feel more valuable than attempting and failing at something that truly mattered. I began looking for the easy lay-up and the busy work that made me feel productive instead of progressing the plot of my dream life.
My fear of failure skyrocketed as I began to believe that my value as a person was based on my achievements. Maybe it was the countless YouTube videos I was watching about #startuplife. Maybe it was the toxic culture of the #riseandgrind mentality that was poisoning my mind. All I knew is that I was miserable.
It was a coaching call that saved me from myself. My goal for the session was to actually believe myself when I said:
“my value as a person is not based on my achievements, rather it is based on the content of my character.”
My coach had me repeat that mantra multiple times but I was making zero progress. She then asked me what projects I was currently working on.
As I listed everything I was currently focused on I felt a bit offended. I considered what I was doing to be my purpose, my mission, and my life’s work. Having someone label it as a project felt belittling and I was just about to respond angrily when something inside of me clicked.
What I was currently doing was just a project. And everything I will ever do will simply be a project.
Isn’t that what our careers truly are? Just a project that we spend a lot of our time on during our lives?
This realization allowed me to recognize how absurd it would be to attach my personal value to the outcome of some external thing I was working on. It also allowed me to reframe how I was looking at new opportunities. Instead of being scared to dream and then possibly fail, I realized that everything I work on during my life is just another project.
It may be incredibly special to me and something I am passionate about, but whether I succeed or fail at this specific project has nothing to do with my worth as a human being.
Book Reports ≠ Popularity
Think back to 6th grade when it was Johnny’s turn to present his book report. You really liked Johnny. He had all the coolest toys, he was incredibly kind, and he was always down to share his gushers with you at lunch. Johnny was the man!
But when it was his turn to present his book report, he proceeded to give the worst performance in the history of the world. It was so bad at that one point the teacher had to step in and ask if he had even read the book. He obviously hadn’t, because last time I checked Frodo Baggins is not one of the main characters in the 6th Harry Potter book. Ouch.
Listening to Johnny ramble on about Frodo and Dumbledore’s loving relationship made you extremely uncomfortable. But it didn’t change how you felt about Johnny as a person. He had failed miserably in front of the whole class, but his worth as a person didn’t change at all. He was still one of your best friends and it didn’t change your opinion on how valuable or competent he was.
Johnny had failed at a project, not as a person.
And that is the key distinction. External outcomes such as how many things we cross off my to-do list or how much money we make in our jobs have absolutely no correlation to our values as people.
Instead, it is the content of our character and how we each interact with the world, that determines our value.