What We Owe Ourselves

The world we live in is defined by worth in various degrees. As members of that world, we are defined by worth in many categories. What you wear, what you do, who you know, how many followers you have, what your “net-worth” is are all defining factors in your ‘worth.’

Yet, self-worth remains a mystery, at least to me. I’m not going to type out how you shouldn’t care about how many likes you get on Instagram or how many views you get on Tik-Tok, because those things do matter in their own ways. My curiosity is about those small, defining moments that come up every single day where many of us, and I would argue most of us, minimize our self-worth for many reasons. They’re not all wrong, I don’t think so at least, because of the roles that we occupy and the responsibilities that we have, but I would argue that there is work to be done in assuring ourselves of the inherent value that we hold simply because we exist.

Have you ever made yourself feel smaller? Shrunk yourself as the person next to you on the subway takes up their whole seat and half of yours? Told yourself you can take a break when you finish one more task? Not spoken up when something doesn’t sit right with you? There are moments when this may feel necessary but I worry about the weight of all of these moments, as fleeting as some of them may be, and I question to which point these moments become instances that we react to rather than respond to. When do we start making those decisions to not take up space and time for ourselves?

The thing is, we don’t make these decisions alone. We make these decisions in the view of strangers, our children, the people we love, and the people we don’t even like and when we do so, we tell them something. We tell them that it’s okay to treat me like that and it’s okay to treat yourself like that. That, my friends, is the wrong message. There is a lot of unlearning to do, and viewing it as a gargantuan task makes me want to run away and never see another person again, but I have a job to get to, a family to take care of, a degree to finish, and a cat to ask “What’s in your mouth?!” I’m sure you have some of those things to do as well as well as whatever else defines your lifescape.

Then why bother? Why bother doing anything if it’s just going to be another

thing to do? Well, I think about moments when I hear a student say “I’m so bad at this” or “I’m stupid” and my immediate response is “No!” I wonder where they hear this, did their friend tell them or an adult in their life say this to them? Oftentimes, the case is that they hear other people saying something like this to themselves. When I sit with a student, or a friend, or a family member, and I decide to minimize myself, I am telling them that it is okay, it is normal to say that. Well, we know we shouldn’t say mean things to others, it’s kind of like the first thing you learn in Pre-K, so then why should we say mean things to ourselves? It’s not “I suck at this,” it’s “Wow, this is difficult.” It’s “Let’s do this together” or “I can practice this more” or “I still had fun” and yes, sometimes at the end of it, you still might not be good at it. After all, the rainbow is made of many colors and things would be quite boring if we were all good at everything.

The process will not always be easy or look grand, there might not even be an inspirational song playing in the background, but it will be one that brings about change. Saying ‘no’ is hard and turning to self-deprecation may seem easy and automatic, but it’s time that these ways that seem hardwired change, for everyone and for ourselves. It’s what we owe each other, and what we owe to ourselves.