The other day I was chatting with a friend over hot tea, discussing a change she was noticing in her significant other. His problems all seemed to boil down to low self-esteem, and she said, “I’m actually sort of surprised he’s insecure. I’ve always perceived him as being super-confident because he’s always so self-assured in his work and social life.”
In that moment, it struck me that confidence and self-worth are not always the same thing. In fact, it seems that sometimes those who are extremely confident in specific attributes actually have a real misunderstanding of their own self-worth.
This got me thinking about my own life and all the times my confidence seemed to shrivel up. I saw a connection: whenever I lost something I would pride myself in — a thing or skill or quality or relationship or status — I’d lose my confidence. I had to ask myself, “Well, who am I when I have nothing?”
To find the foundation of my own self-worth, I had to examine the places where I mistakenly sought it. Here’s what I learned.
What we do
Have you ever wanted to do something simply to say you did it? We often pride ourselves on the things we do because it gives us a sense of importance and status. Sometimes it’s even in little things, like a subtle brag about having to work late or just being “so busy.”
It’s easy to believe that because we have an important job, attend a prestigious college, or have traveled the world, that we’ve somehow elevated our existence as human beings. It’s the American dream ingrained in our minds: go and do big things, become someone, “make” something of ourselves.
While it’s good to work toward tangible goals like a specific job or educational degree, our worth is never contingent upon what we do.
Think of it this way: Would you say someone who is homeless has less human worth than you, simply because you’ve accomplished a certain social status? Of course not. So be kind to yourself when you’re struggling professionally, academically, or socially — your existence is significant regardless of your title, accomplishments, or status.
How we look
Confidence is so wrapped up in appearance that they’re nearly impossible to separate. To be clear, it’s not wrong to feel confident about how you look, but you have so much more to offer than your looks. Being physically attractive depends on either (1) Hitting the genetic lottery; or (2) Actively working on your appearance through fitness, eating healthy, maintaining hair, dressing well, wearing makeup, etc. All of these things are happenstance and always changing. Your worth as a human being is unchanging.
Social media makes it especially hard to separate our value from how we look because platforms like Instagram explicitly connect the two through “likes” or “follows.” It’s easy to start believing that we need this affirmation to prove we are worthy of being loved.
Think of the people closest to you. Do you love them less because they’re not physically perfect? If they have a breakout, does that suddenly change how you view their entire personhood? Are they now unworthy of love? If your answer is, “No,” then apply that same perspective to yourself.
Remind yourself that you’re not loved by your friends and family because of how you look. Know that the love you have to offer has nothing to do with your appearance.
What other people think of us
Today, everyone has a platform for exposure. At no other time in history has billions of people had access to so much attention from the others and direct feedback on their perceptions. The fact that thousands of people are accessing who we are via social media is actually mind-boggling and it’s made us all hyper-aware of what people think of us.
Naturally, this type of exposure forces us to constantly look at ourselves through the eyes of strangers so we can curate an image of ourselves that they will like. By the same token, it’s also allowed us to become extremely critical of others because it’s easier to make judgments through a screen.
We’ve become so afraid of being disliked that any mistake we make feels unforgivable. Looking to others to decide whether you are good, bad, or worthy of mercy will never allow for a true sense of self-worth because you’ll constantly be afraid of losing your reputation.
The opinions of others can’t be a place to locate our self-worth simply because no person can judge the state of our souls. Even when we mess up and make terrible mistakes, when people dislike or hate us — we still have immeasurable worth that cannot be taken away.
The things we own
We all remember the joy of having a brand new, shiny toy. As kids, we felt so proud of the cool toys we owned. That same feeling carries on into adulthood, but with fancy apartments, cars, clothes, electronics, and the like. These things give us a sense of relevancy and luxury: “Look at what I have and what owning these things says about me!” We feel directly connected to these things as if they’re an extension of who we are.
Every time we get something new, it feels like an improvement upon ourselves. Often, the things we buy and believe will improve our worth are simply distractions from the bigger issues we are running away from. Shiny new toys can only keep you happy for so long before you have to really discover where your self-worth truly resides.
And I think you already know the answer to that.
In the end, our worth lies in God — always. When you have none of the traits or attributes listed above, you are enough. You are not loved for your job, the way you look, public opinion, or for the things you own. You are loved simply because He wants to love you for eternity. Even when you’ve lost all worldly treasures or don’t live up to societal standards, even when you’ve messed up and people don’t like you, God still loves you through it all — and will continue loving you.
Knowing that you’re loved totally unconditionally is pretty incredible — feels a bit like knowing your self-worth, no?