For something to exist, it must be created. For something to survive, it must be fed.
True for wolves.
True for business.
True for self-worth.
Unsure how the three are related? Here’s the uncomfortable truth: So many entrepreneurs unconsciously hunt for their self-worth by feeding on the validation that comes from business success, and it isn’t sustainable, or healthy.
If you think you’ve fallen into this trap of turning your business into a self-worth feeder you’re in good company, some trouble, and probably a degree of emotional pain.
Here’s why so many entrepreneurs hunt, how to tell if your sense of self has displaced onto your business, and steps towards making self-worth an inside job.
What are you “worth?”
Self-worth is the understanding that you are a good person who deserves to be treated with respect. This may sound obvious, and it is. Except for the “deserving” part.
In our society, we’ve been taught to believe we must work hard to earn the right to be “good.” Learning to work hard sounds like a good thing. It’s not a good thing when the commodity you’re trying to buy — self-worth — can’t be bought.
Self-worth is innate; babies don’t have to collect evidence to prove they deserve to eat. So why do so many intelligent and brilliant people find themselves pointing to what they do, earn, make, and look like to prove they’re “good enough?”
Simple. We’ve been raised by wolves to hunt like wolves.
You’ve been set up to fail
Self-worth may sound personal, but your value as a human being has a lot of very active and noisy external stakeholders, many of whom profit when you’re in a worth-deficit.
Your worth collaged into being long before you had a say in the matter, or a career to point to. It was mapped out by your parents, school systems, and on a societal level when you were taught which of your personality traits were powerful strategies you could deploy to earn your worth.
Qualities like work ethic, a very narrow definition of intelligence, speed, and efficiency are sure-fire ways to earn yourself a valuable identity: to be someone worth knowing. Dependency models are disempowering for individuals, but our society is set up to thrive off our collective unworthiness. We’ve been taught to act like robots and are positively reinforced by it.
It begs the question: Is entrepreneurship your personality, or a coping strategy?
The worth hamster wheel
Your self-worth is only as rich and real as the evidence you have to support it. When your worth is externalized your identity is hungry; it needs to feed on evidence to survive.
What better evidence to point to than tangible professional success forged in the fires of intelligence, grinding to the bone, and innovation? Pointing to your ideas, vision, financial success, and influence are convincing metrics.
Those watching are either blinded by your brilliance, jealous of your intensity, copying what you’re doing, or desperate to hire you. You’re in a positive feedback loop. Until your business takes a dive or you have a slow month.
If you’ve lived your whole life buoyed solely by the external collection, and validation, of your worth through work, achievements, and the endless smashing of goals, here’s another uncomfortable question:
Who are you when you stop working, or when business isn’t going well?
What are you worth now?
The identity trap
Unless you’re an uncommon sage with remarkable self-awareness, many entrepreneurs pay the invisible cost to being a good hunter. Your identity displaces. Your self worth becomes your business.
It is a trap to turn your worth into a commodity. It’s a ruthless trap to get snared in; it also gives you something money can’t buy.
Unworthiness gives your business edge
The fear of being discovered as a fraud is a powerful mobilizer. Unworthiness gives you an edge. Unworthiness, dressed up as grinding, probably gave you your first taste of professional success in the same way your first diet actually worked.
Here’s the cruel joke: Both set you up to suffer. Neither work long-term. Both eventually get very painful, then fail.
Our “edge” sits very close to another part of us. The brink. When you’ve been hunting yourself for long enough, you’re closer to the brink than you want to acknowledge.
There’s a reason why entrepreneurs get into a lot of pain, can’t sleep, struggle with anxiety, experience chronic stress, and even feel suicidal.
If you notice that your sense of worth, hope, joy, and happiness ebbs and flows with the ideas, money, opportunities, recognition, and social media validation in your business, you’re in trouble.
Your self-worth has displaced, you’re still hungry, and you believe that lie that all you need is “more.” “More” could sound like a new product, clients, or money.
In truth, “more” is not a smart or aligned business decision. “More” a self-worth scavenger hunt and, left unchecked, entrepreneurship is the cruelest trap.
Stuck in a worth deficit?
In the wise words of Snickers, “You’re not you when you’re hungry.”
When you’re in a worth-deficit, you get desperate. You overwork and lower your standards for sustenance. That’s when you make rash, misaligned, or downright bad decisions. It may look like you're pioneering your next venture. But if you find yourself high on fear and adrenaline in your business, you should check your personal worthiness reserves long before your bank balance.
Get rich in self-worth
Grinding to the bone also has a glaring limitation: worth is priceless. So how do you get rich in something you can’t earn, or buy?
The work starts with awareness and acceptance of how your worth is externalized and continues, but never ends, by reclaiming a foundational sense of innate self-worth.
We’ll walk through the steps of how to transform from a "human doing" to a human being in my next story.
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