The Fertile Space Between Your Self-Worth and Your Work (How To Let It Be Of You, But Not All Of You)
Photo by Siora Photography
Sitting here, 35,000 feet in the air, gazing out the window across the ocean on my way to speak to 600 accountants (CPA’s) in Auckland, then Sydney, then Canberra and then Adelaide.
No matter how many talks I give, the trembles and nerves don’t seem to dwindle.
Our inquiry is into the role of community, vulnerability and emotional sensitivity in this Connection Economy. Why these very human capacities are so crucial in our work, and perhaps most importantly, in our life?
Part of me is sitting with the privilege and excitement of this opportunity, the other part doubting itself immensely. Here I am, sitting in my human-ness 😜
“Who am I to be speaking on this topic? They won’t listen.”
“What if it’s a complete flop?”
“I’ll be a complete flop!”
Noticing the attachments I have to my talks (or group contemplations) and my identity and self-worth getting closely entwined with my words, my message and my craft.
What do I do when I notice myself living through a slightly imbalanced, unproductive thought spiral? I wrote a haiku, of course.
Whispers of self-doubt,
What if I take the self out?
All doubt melts away.
So my inquiry emerges:
How do we balance the great paradox of both, being your work in the world, and at the same time, not letting it be you?
Another great paradox.
As soon as we plop out of the womb and into this world, we are served with a gourmet platter of paradoxes to straddle: self vs other, strength vs ease, creating vs allowing amongst the many more.
Of course slowly remembering that these are all two sides of one big coin called life. A delicate dance moment-to-moment as we oscillate between environments, interactions and relationships.
This paradox though, is one very prevalent in our culture today.
Many of us are born into a culture that asks “what do you do,” more than “what are you in love with, or curious about.” This breeds a value-system that shapes how we relate to ourselves, and others around our ‘doing’ in the world.
Our work and that which we do, becomes a measure of our sense of self and our worthiness. Of course, leading us to constantly wanting to do more, to fill this trance of not-enough.
We become identified with our work, we fear taking those small necessary risks, as their falling-short might be a reflection of our worth.
Very rarely do I make strong statements, but I do want to make sure this one gets across:
You are not your work. It is not a reflection of you. It is an expression of you, but it most certainly is not all of you.
You are the whole, not the parts.
As mindfulness will teach us, we are an ever-evolving constellation of parts.
Your emotions, thoughts, sensations, toes, hair, eyes, friends, talents, challenges, quirks – all a part of what makes you You. But it is all of this (plus an immeasurable amount more) that makes you who you are.
We simply cannot reduce you down to a singular fixed aspect of yourself, and neither should you. We, ourselves are a dance of moving parts.
Our work and our work in the world is one of these parts. It’s an aspect of ourselves, out in the world, but is not and cannot be all of ourselves.
Of course, our aim is to have our work become a natural expression of our curiousities, our passions, talents and who we believe ourselves to be – this is what makes it feel meaningful. But here lays the fine line, the paradox.
How closely can we build a connection and alignment with our work in the world, without it becoming us completely?
The fountain of your work.
The beginning of this year, whilst wrapping up writing my book, I’d decided to take a small break from my keynote speaking work to reconcile my relationship to this aspect of my work.
For me, my speaking career began at the age of 14, as I was crafting an identity, building my sense of self, and desperately working to fill the disconnection I felt inside.
Speaking became something I did, to fill myself up, to feel as if everything was ok and my life had worth.
Let me be honest and humble at the same time. Whilst I was a great speaker and did great work, it burnt me inside. This void of disconnection, of not-enough is not something a job, a person, a car, a house can ever fill – and keep filled.
I’d try to reconcile this by simply making sure that the talks I would give and the clients I’d work with were aligned with who I thought myself to be.
It felt a little better. A greater sense of congruence and wholeness started to emerge.
It still didn’t feel quite right though. There was still a searching. Each time I would present, it was a performance, something other than me, still with the attempt to feel like I was ‘enough’ on the other side.
I’ve sat with this, probed why I had this experience and spoken to many others about this also. My consensus, is that I’m not alone. My provocation is that you too, like most people I spoke to may have remnants of this story playing out.
It hurts, it’s murky, it’s scary and it’s confusing. Everything at once!
Our work and all that we do in the world needs to be an overflowing from oneself, a sort of fountain. We are enough, as we are, all the time. This is not up for negotiation.
Creating, loving, giving, offering only with the hope that we will feel more full, more whole and more ‘enough’ on the other side will be a forever-chase.
You are enough, even without it.
Without your work, without all that you ‘do,’ all the titles and roles you walk with, who is it that wants to be loved?
Who is it that is hoping that one day you’ll be able to sit with them under a tree and connect over all that they love and all that makes them feel alive?
Connecting with this aspect or perspective of yourself, doesn’t mean you go and quit your job, stop doing all that you are. Not at all.
It simply means you start to soften into a new way of relating to all you do. It feels lighter, more expansive and more creative. Who knows, you might find more joy in what you are doing, even if it doesn’t feel like your ‘reason for being.’ 🙃
I’m curious, what resonated for you in this piece?
It felt a little more authoritative for me, some strong clear statements, but I trust I padded it out with some stories and anecdotes for you to connect with. This is one of the cultural entanglements that has woven itself into our personal worldview, that feels imbalanced, and that I explore in my forthcoming book.
Let me know what feels resonant for you, or not. Al
Also published on Medium.