In this excerpt from Your Vivid Life (Watkins, October 2019), author Shayne Traviss questions the origins of self-worth, the measurements by which we define ourselves, and the societal conditioning that restricts us from seeing our true value.
I sit here on my balcony contemplating the question: what is worthiness? I hold a cigarette in one hand, I’m wearing a baseball cap, and my mind is running amok with memories of the past and thoughts of what my future looks like.
Recently my life has taken a direction that is less than desirable, but desirable to who? If I was to choose a religion, mine would be self-inquiry. I am constantly questioning – where did that thought come from? What’s influencing my actions?
And then I look at the cigarette burning away and I look up at people walking by. Thoughts fill my head again. But now they seem to be attached to how smoking this cigarette somehow has something to do with my worth. How wearing this cap to cover up my thinning hair is a reflection of my worth. And how the thoughts I’m having about my future and what that will look like are asking me: am I, or will I be, worthy?
Are these my thoughts, or are they 40 years of other people’s thoughts interfering with my own inner voice? And at the core of that voice, my own self-worth. And here comes the anxiety that has so aggressively sat down at life’s table unwelcome for my entire life, the conditioned thoughts that I can’t help but hear. And then I pivot back and forth between throwing it out on its ass and screaming ‘fuck you’, to inviting it in for a cup of tea, and allowing it to be listened to.
Asking these thoughts, ‘Which is really me?’, ‘What’s coming up for me?’, ‘What’s my story?’ And then listening with the awareness that I have worked on for my entire adult life.
Be still and know, Shayne, be still and know …
I know because I’m sitting here about to delve into the topic of worthiness that it must absolutely be the subject, and because I’ve struggled with it my entire life, and I – we all – really so desperately want to be free from it, to be valued and for the world (and ourself ) to accept us just the way we are.
But it’s not been the case. We learn this at an early age, sometimes as early as our first memories trying to pick out our own clothes that didn’t match, or weren’t gender specific enough, and the voice of our parent or guardian speaking up, gently or sometimes not so gently, ‘people will laugh at you’, ‘boys/girls don’t wear that’. And then you feel a sinking in your soul.
We don’t want to be looked at as not belonging, and we so desperately want our parents and peers to see and love us. And there it begins. We bargain for love (our worthiness) by showing up the way we’re ‘supposed to’, and suppressing our innermost selves in the process.
We’ve not applied for but accepted the position of worthless– it is not something that is forced upon us, but we accept it. It’s created in our head when we fail to tick off the labels of society, when we fail to receive the gold star of approval. You know the gold star, right? The one you perhaps received on your first assignment as a child? Or perhaps you didn’t and then there was that sinking feeling again, and the birth of your desire to get that gold star at whatever cost, even at the cost of not being yourself.
It’s all too familiar for me and its grip tightened as I began to grow. Because deep inside I knew I was so radically different than ‘the norm’. However, I knew that in order to survive, at least in that world, I would have to conform. I would have to wait in the line with everyone else, in the hope of receiving my gold star. And if I didn’t I would then have to pay enough attention to figure out what it was I had to do to get it.
Even today I catch myself looking to my peers, within my genre, to see what’s acceptable, what’s trending, to see what it takes to receive my gold star. Or in today’s language, social media likes and shares.
And it’s painful, oh so painful. And it changes so rapidly that it’s a whirlwind of anxiety just trying to keep up. And a distraction from the reality that is who I really am now, and a deep inner knowing that my worthiness is not an outside thing.
And somehow I’ve known this all along. It’s a voice that’s travelled with me from aged five (my earliest memory) until today – nearly 40 years later. Sometimes it’s been a whisper and most recently it’s been shouts, shouts so loud it’s impossible not to listen.
‘Who am I? Who are you?’
Who are we without the conditioning that we’ve allowed to dictate our worthiness? And what even is this word we call worth?
The dictionary describes worth as ‘the value equivalent to that of someone or something under consideration; the level at which someone or something deserves to be valued or rated’. But under consideration by who? Deserving to be valued or rated by who? Who is this person or group of persons who decides our worth or what or who is valued?
But as children the dictionary seems to have become our dictator of authority. Or perhaps if we grew up in a religious household, that religion or whatever theology our family adopted became that authority as well. Above our own inherent voice or truth, we started our lives handing over authority to words above feelings (our inner voice), to other people’s truths rather than our own. But we trusted them because, hey, they knew, right?
Or did they, do they? Does anybody really know? Or can anybody really know who we truly are, or what is right for us?
We’re born into family units, and blindly trust that they have our best interests at heart. We then board the bus to institutions such as schools, churches and libraries governed by collective theologies and rules by which to live, perhaps never even questioning if they are right for us. Or when we do, we end up with our nose against the wall, or in my case sat under a desk facing an entire class in shame.
And when we don’t question, when we follow the rules, when we dress how we’re supposed to dress, act how we’re supposed to act and hand in our papers in the perfect form, we get the gold star.
Or as adults that gold star becomes accolades, admiration, career advancement, things and money. For some reason a puppet comes to mind and the strings bear the names of every theology and rule that’s controlling our lives which we so desperately want to cut.
But what if we fall? What if we can’t stand by ourselves? And that scares the shit out of us.
Because up until this point we’ve been safe. We’ve been supported by the ‘norms’ because we’ve allowed them to carry us, and to break free from that may mean that we no longer have support, that we are no longer worthy, and that’s what we’ve been afraid of our entire lives.
About the Author
Shayne Traviss is an accomplished author who left the corporate world, filed for bankruptcy, and set out on a journey of self-discovery. He went on to create VividLife.me, a personal-development movement that reached millions around the globe and landed him an invitation and a face-to-face meeting with Oprah Winfrey at her private screening party in New York City. After twenty years of marketing, promoting, and producing others, he decided to focus on his own life experiences, travels, and inspirations.
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