Most of us have grown up on a diet of achievement, ambition and success. We were rewarded for coming first. Recognised for getting the highest marks. Celebrated for outdoing others. The conditioning ‘our worth is based on the trophy in our hands and what others think of us’ has been ingrained in us since childhood.
As a child I don’t remember anyone asking me…
“How was your day?”
“What do you like to do?”
“How do you wish to spend your time?”
Being a part of a system — family, school, community, corporation — we are mostly told what we must do. We are made to believe if we do what we are told, we will be successful. And it is assumed, once we are successful we will be happy.
We tend to follow this dictum without questioning its validity. Because no one wants to be a loser. Be left behind, while others are progressing forward. So we try hard to fit into the system. Sing a song that is not our own. And in doing so lose touch with our natural rhythm.
The purpose of life becomes the pursuit of success. Defined by numbers. Salary. Clients. Followers. Turnover. Profit. Participants. Subscribers. Votes. Views. Likes. The numbers define our self-worth. Our mind keeps racing to achieve one goal after the other. Pushing us to outdo our expectations.
But the race never ends. It keeps going on, fuelled by our anxiety of being left behind. If we are successful we feel admired, loved and wanted. We feel powerful. Success becomes a drug. It gives us a temporary high. Once the effect is over we want the next hit.
We believe others are watching us. Assessing how successful we are. Evaluating our worth. But are they? Others seem to be busy pursuing their worth, in the eyes of others. The ‘others’ is mostly a projection of our own mind.
This cycle of seeking ‘success — validation — worth’ is like chasing a mirage in the desert. We chase the water of success to quench our thirst for self-worth. When we get success it satiates us momentarily. And the pursuit continues.
Even though we may see the fallacy of seeking self-worth through success, few amongst us opt out of this system willingly. We are often forced to re-examine our life due to a job loss, health crisis, emotional breakdown, mental illness or relationship breakup. When we are alone, we are forced to confront our fear of being worthless.
At such a time we question our belief ‘the purpose of life is to be successful’. After much introspection some of us redefine success. The words inspiration, joy, connection, freedom, authenticity and contentment enter our vocabulary. We seek fulfilment.
We may not know what will fulfil us. But having pursued success, we at least know that it does not satisfy us. What do we do now? The success template that we had imbibed in our childhood at least told us what to do. It gave us some direction. It kept us climbing, even if it was not the ladder of our choice. Without any belief we are lost. We don’t know what to do.
This is a vulnerable period. The old has gone. The new has not yet arrived. This is the twilight phase of self-transformation. All our fears of worthlessness rise to the surface. With nothing to do and nowhere to go, we end up feeling what we have tried to avoid all our life. Being a loser.
Now if I have to sound romantic and idealistic, I would say….”when you face your fears you will realise you are much bigger than your fears…when you start listening to your heart, it will guide you to your true calling…once you realize your calling you will find the true meaning and purpose of your life…and you will be happy forever.”
Unfortunately I cannot give you that hope. Life is neither romantic nor idealistic. It is what it is.
Having undergone this journey, I can say from experience, that I have found my voice. My natural expression as a teacher of mindfulness. But there is no happily ever after.
Life is still uncertain. I have no idea how the future will unfold. But something interesting is happening. I am becoming more aware of this habit of the mind to project a desired future and seek security in it. I am realizing life often does not turn out the way the mind imagines it. And that is the nature of life.
Self-worth cannot be attained by doing something or becoming someone. It comes from realising our true essence. The wave cannot become worthy by becoming bigger than other waves. It becomes worthy by realising it is not a wave but water. In that realisation the pursuit of self-worth disappears.
When we reside in our naturalness, simply being, we experience Oneness. It is blissful. Just like a drug, we feel high. Only this time our high is not dependent on what we do or who we are but our own existence. It cannot be taken away from us. It is the fragrance of our Being.
We are no longer driven to do something or become someone to validate our worth. Our actions are an expression of fullness. An expression of creativity. An outburst of joy. They seek no results. Because our actions do not add or subtract anything from who we are. Our knowledge of ourself is no longer a mental image based on outcomes and opinions. It stems from the realization that we are Life itself.
“Yes, all this sounds nice and rosy, but how do I realise that I am Life itself?” you ask.
By dropping the notion that ‘you can realise it’. When one realizes the futility of seeking self-worth through success; the mind tends to project another self-image for fulfilment. An image of a spiritually enlightened being free of desires and fears. Now it starts pursuing this image.
When the pointlessness of all pursuit is realised, the mind stops.
There is nothing to do. Nowhere to go. It becomes silent. In that Silence fulfilment is found. A fulfilment that seeks no reward, no recognition, no appreciation. The Self has found its worth.