Chapter 1 – Taking Inventory: Recognition and Responsibility
“The whole theory of the universe is directed unerringly
to one single individual – namely to you.”
- From Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman
What is your personal currency? What do you feel you have to offer to the world at large – and is that offering given the value, validity, and respect it deserves? Are you happy to be a female? When you judge yourself, as we all do, how do you measure up? Are you an equally treasured part of society? Are you predictable? Does being a woman ever make you feel compromised in any way? When you consider your worth as a woman, what comes to mind? This subject may expose emotions and responses that surprise you.
For example, what are the rulers or measuring tools you use? Do you think of:
- Your marriage?
- Your ability to provide for your children?
- Your success in the workplace?
- Your friendships and family relationships?
- Your hobbies and avocations?
- Your sense of well-being and fulfillment?
- Your dedication to helping others?
- Your faith?
Do you even consider your worth at all? Perhaps not in so many words, but the subject of worthiness or validity probably comes up for you time and again, and it’s manifested by behaviors and gender stereotypes that don’t serve you well. Does the idea of objectification conjure up significant images for you? (Think sexual plaything, object, and so on.) How about gender stereotypes? Have you ever found yourself automatically identifying with words such as weak, frail, or defenseless? Such adjectives are often used to describe women.
We live in an era when we’re obsessed with obsession – a psychological disorder in which individuals become fixated on a perceived or imaginary defect in the way they look, so eating disorders, obesity, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and body dysmorphic disorders all fall into this category. Are we making the grave mistake of using such disordered thinking to regulate our overall perception of self-worth? Do we associate thinness with perfection or consider variations in body type as flaws? When we take into consideration that nearly 10 million females in the United States are struggling with eating disorders, we may begin to wonder …
Are we incapable of setting our own standards? Misconceptions and maladaptations to outside and inside influences can infantilize us into a state of helplessness. The “Cinderella complex” (a theory first described by Colette Dowling in her 1981 book of the same name) suggests that women actually fear independence and have an unconscious desire to be taken care of.
While it’s possible that some of us have been preprogrammed with this particular mind-set, helpless is not the word I’d use to describe most women I know, nor should you be willing to attach that descriptor to yourself. However, do be aware that such an unconscious desire may indeed have been included in the bag of tricks you were given as a youngster, and it could invade your behavior when you least expect it. Here’s an important note for you to jot down in your personal journal or diary: resist it. Play to your strengths, not your weaknesses. Confidence is your best asset, but it’s also your most attractive fashion lure, if that’s a consideration for you.
Why is it important to understand your true value or personal currency? I’m going to be bold and say that not only is it important to recognize your innate worth, it’s critical that you do. Your survival and sense of well-being virtually depend upon it.
Discovering the Meaning of Worth
What does worth mean to you? How do you define or assess it? Is there a general measurement of it that holds true for everyone? Most likely, you’ve formed a conception of what self-worth and self-esteem are, but for the sake of clarity, it might be helpful to analyze these terms. We use them so often that their meaning may have lost potency.
According to the highly regarded Oxford American Dictionary, worth means “sufficiently good, important, or interesting to justify a specified action.” The thesaurus includes these synonyms: merit, value, excellence, caliber, quality, stature, eminence, importance, significance, and distinction. Such words help synthesize what can be tricky to define in a finite way.
The following list of terms may help illuminate the concept even further:
- Self-esteem: the value, respect, and honor you have for yourself
- Conditions of worth: the do’s and don’ts, shoulds and shouldn’ts, that you live by in order to feel appreciated and accepted by others
- Self-concept: the organized set of perceptions and ideas you have for yourself
- Self-actualization: a principle of human behavior stating that you strive to develop your capacities and talents to the fullest – that is, growing and enhancing the basic self
- Self-efficacy: your expectation that you can effectively cope with and master situations, as well as bring about desired outcomes through personal efforts
- Social stratification: the ranking of individuals into groups within a culture
- Resilience: being able to withstand, or recover quickly from, difficult conditions
So how do you feel about yourself? Are you your number one fan? Do you flounder along in blind acceptance of other people’s rules?
Keep in mind that our culture and environment typically stipulate markers or benchmarks for the establishment of mastery and validity. While such markers often provide the context for viability by measuring specific aptitude and/or ability for a particular undertaking (such as entrance to medical school), in other cases, cultural rituals and habits serve no greater purpose than to control our behavior. “Groupthink,” peer pressure, and media messages all exploit our vulnerabilities; and they can also coerce us to believe that we’re not beautiful, smart, or worthwhile unless we conform to a specific mind-set.
Take a moment now to let your mind float away from the culturally induced markers for validity you’ve been subjected to. Can you resist the incessant outside editing and altering that society subjects you to and see the incredible person you are inside? Can you feel validated and valued? Will you grant yourself that level of respect? Understand that when you recognize your innate worth, you’re more inclined to strive to fulfill your potential, and having done that, you will be happy.
Women who are successful exude a sense of confidence in themselves. One of the things such individuals have in common is their ability to harness their own thoughts and behaviors; they bring a great deal of personal intention to their lives. They realize that they’re the directors of their own destinies and therefore take a positive stance as they look forward. They’re happy people – by happy, I’m referring to an experience of contentment, joy, or positive well-being. It’s the sense that life is generally good, meaningful, and worthwhile.
Are you in that place? Do you think you can create that kind of life for yourself? Specialists in the field of psychology and behavior say that you can. Armed with the wisdom and reflections of hundreds of women who responded to my questionnaire about their worth, I will show you how.
The first step in acknowledging and accessing your worth, value, and sense of fulfillment is to take an honest personal assessment. Set aside some quiet time where you can have privacy and think.
Now take out your journal and a pen, and answer the following questions:
- Are you happy?
- What gives you joy?
- What contributions do you make?
- Do you feel acknowledged for these contributions?
- Are your relationships fulfilling?
- Do you nurture and enjoy your relationships?
- Are you achieving goals that you set for yourself?
- Do your activities and lifestyle contribute to your sense of worth and well-being?
- Do you take personal responsibility for your actions?
- Does something or someone else dictate how you should feel or act?
If you don’t want to write down answers to these questions, at least consider them. And feel free to add additional queries of your own that are more specific to the particulars in your life.
An assessment of who you are and where you stand is vital to your ability to function freely in the world. Be creative, and assess yourself with flair. Does this sound frivolous to you? It shouldn’t, for it’s a joyful recognition of who you are. By evaluating and recognizing your abilities, you validate yourself, and you need to be able to do that before anyone else can validate you.
I’ve gone over all of the preceding questions myself, and I admit that the first few responses I wrote were brief and short on details. But as I allowed myself more time to think, I began to remember things about my life, along with how I truly feel about particular memories. My personal assessments and soul-searching answers to difficult questions have helped me get to know myself. The journal I’ve written all of this in has become my own never-ending story, and for me, it’s a treasure.
FYI, when you assess and validate yourself, you’re accepting the truth about who you are. This is not a form of surrender, although your insecure mind may take you to that conclusion temporarily. Please resist that. Accept your assessment as intentional recognition – which actually sounds more like power and self-determination than surrender. When you can accept yourself as an individual, you become even more credible as a participant in the collective.
Assessing your life demands a certain level of pride, respect, and courage because it means you’re taking responsibility for it. Responsibility also suggests ownership – of your feelings and actions, as well as the outcomes of your actions. The easiest road may not be your chosen path, and growing pains will be part of your overall development. Nobody said life and growth would be easy.
It’s a good idea to learn to take responsibility at a young (that is, eager and absorbent) age. So if you’re a mother, I hope you’ll teach your children to be independent and self-assured when they’re still little. Give them opportunities to work out their problems, which includes allowing them to fail occasionally so that they can figure out for themselves how to succeed. It takes courage to let your kids individuate away from you – but trust me, they’ll benefit, and you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment as well.
Individuation is a psychological term used to describe when individuals separate or distinguish themselves from others, and it’s a big part of personal discovery. We’ve all done it – it’s a natural, yet sometimes difficult, transition. If we have teenagers, we know how this feels, and we can be certain our mothers felt the same way.
When cultures, rituals, and customs establish constraints to it, individuating can be especially tricky. For example, in various parts of the world, females are continually stratified and marginalized: Many women are relegated to roles and duties prescribed by antiquated cultural mores and rules that make life difficult, arduous, and at times seemingly hopeless. Girls are routinely denied education, ownership rights, and power over their bodies. So the suggestion that they buck the system and take charge of their lives may seem as disingenuous as telling them to fly like birds.
Yet stories continually surface of women in dire, restrictive circumstances who manage to take action to change their lives for the better despite the odds against them. One notable example is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who so eloquently shares her personal saga in her book Infidel.
Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, Ali has dared to criticize Islam, a defiance that could cost her her life. Her screenplay for Theo Van Gogh’s movie Submission, which criticizes the position of women in Islamic societies, resulted in death threats against her. (Van Gogh himself was murdered in 2004 by a Muslim.) Despite the very real dangers facing Ali, and perhaps in spite of her upbringing as an obedient Muslim daughter, she’s become an outspoken advocate for women and a political activist. Even though she now lives and works in an undisclosed location in the Netherlands, her story as recounted in Infidel reveals her deep convictions and unfaltering courage. Read it and weep … Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a true hero.
Your ambitions and goals are not that dissimilar from women in other cultures. While your everyday circumstances may differ, you can still find your own courage. No matter your age, think of yourself as the director and producer of your life, rather than the adjunct player in someone else’s. Own your place on the planet. Consider what would be good for you for a change.
In concrete ways, by owning your worth you honor women everywhere, and the trickle-down effect of your actions will ultimately reach every corner of the globe. As part of your personal inventory and assessment, give some thought to the following exercises, and write down the answers in your journal:
- List your current duties and obligations (such as being a personal consultant, mother, wife, caretaker of aging parents, chef, house manager, and accountant).
- List your life goals (for example, to climb Mount Everest, to become a partner in your law firm, to raise happy and healthy children, and to have a fulfilling relationship).
- Describe your innate abilities or talents (these come through in the hobbies you like to do and the activities you excel at – perhaps including good people skills, a positive attitude, a knack for organizing, and patience).
- Identify what stands in the way of achieving your goals.
- Consider new steps you can take to enhance your abilities and learn new skills.
Without personal awareness of your abilities, goals, and challenges, you might lose sight of your choices. When you fight the urge to accept out of hand what society dictates, you’ll experience an enormous sense of freedom. You do have options in life; you just need to be willing to use them.
Turning on Your Light
Women are just as inherently worthy, valuable, and valid as men are, but our possession of this reality can be more tenuous than it is for our male counterparts. That’s because we’ve been raised within a cultural mind-set that defines gender-specific roles and modes of behavior that prescribe how we should act, whether those actions are beneficial for us or not.
As an aside, although I often make reference to the dominant male mind-set, this journey is not about male bashing; I love men. Just like you, I have several men in my life whom I adore. The quest for substantiation is not about blame or revenge.
At any rate, please think of this expedition you’re embarking upon more in terms of an awakening, a turning on of your light. This is an invitation for you to recognize, validate, and apply your full potential in all domains of your life. The truth is, you can’t begin to change the way society responds to you until you’re clear about what you want that response to be. So check yourself out: how do you measure up, not to societal dictates, but on your own achievement scale?
It’s time to take a cue from h4 women who have resisted a narrow-minded vision and take responsibility for your self-worth. Define your personality by stipulating your own style, fashion statement, and boundaries. Get a little insight about how you feel by performing a stream-of-thought exercise that itemizes the wonderful, positive things about yourself. When you’ve got a mental list of positive statements that pertain to the many domains of your life, write them down.
For example, you might start with the following:
- I’m married to a man I love.
- I’m a mother, and I feel fulfilled and blessed in this role.
- I work full-time and share financial obligations in my household.
- My partner and I are happy and healthy, and we greatly enjoy spending time together.
- I have parents who love me.
- I get along with my siblings.
- My career is interesting and stimulating.
- I love to ski, and I find fulfillment in developing that skill.
- I exercise at least three times a week and enjoy feeling energized.
- I love to read and cook, but I also feel happy when I learn something new.
Your positive statements can be about anything and everything you do and/or are involved with. The exercise is valuable because your assessment will help you reconnect with your authentic self and establish personal integrity. Define actions going forward that are appropriate for you. By knowing who you are and what you’re capable of, you’ll suddenly stand up straighter; breathe more deeply; and feel more secure, productive, and alive. It’s an amazing feeling.
Strengthen Your Core
Honest, in-depth personal knowledge is called “insight.” This is a deep, intuitive understanding of yourself that strengthens your core – the place inside of you that your yoga teacher talks about. Your core needs to be both h4 and resilient in order to handle the tectonic shifts your world surprises you with. Happy, successful women nurture this inner part of themselves because they know that when they radiate an aura of strength, the people around them feel safer, too.
Such calm, resolute energy is attractive, a turn-on. You’ll receive instant feedback, since projecting a positive sense of strength makes people want to be around you. Aha! This, then, is an important lesson to learn: when the people you care about are safe, secure, and happy, a mutually beneficial circle is created around you as well. Your sense of self-esteem increases, a sense of autonomy occurs, and confidence blooms.
Begin your process of self-evaluation now by spending some one-on-one time with numero uno – yourself. Find a quiet corner and allocate some precious time to discovering you. Try for 30 minutes a day, but even 15 minutes will get you started. Let yourself stare into space, think, dream, ponder …
Okay, I’m sure that some of you are wondering, What’s she smoking? Who has the luxury of extra, disposable time? While it’s true that so many of us have overscheduled ourselves to the point of exhaustion, consequently leaving very little time in our lives for staring into space and reflection, the time we make for ourselves is quality time that not only do we need, we deserve.
Utilize all your formidable multitasking skills to carve out some time for yourself. When you drive home after taking the kids to school, for instance, do some soul-searching along the way. Repeat positive affirmations at stoplights, or take that time to pray. I spend time with myself when I work out on the treadmill or cross-training machines in the gym. This is a great time to get into a “thinking about myself” zone. In fact, I often come up with some of my best writing while I’m walking on the treadmill.
Whatever you do, even if you just hide in your bathroom for ten minutes a day, breathe deeply and give yourself the gift of positive rumination. Think of yourself in the best possible way, and choose to do whatever you can to enhance the quality of your life today.
Take inventory of your personal currency by completing the following exercise: write down an honest assessment of your abilities, attributes, and current goals.
Here are some examples to get you started:
- I’m a people person.
- I have a good sense of humor.
- I don’t feel confident about money.
- I’m an excellent skier.
- I’m a loving, accommodating spouse.
- I make kick-ass chili.
- I’m a great mother.
- I’m insecure about speaking my mind.
- I play the cello.
- I’m currently learning a new language.
- I want to continue my education.
- I’m nurturing.
- I feel overwhelmed sometimes, but I handle it.
- I’m kind.
Now frame your abilities, attributes, and goals within the context of your self-worth and happiness:
- I feel worthwhile when I _________________________.
- I’m competent and successful in my _________________________.
- I’m happiest when I _________________________.
- My achievements make me feel worthwhile because _________________________.
- I’m h4est when I _________________________.
- My positive outlook for my future includes _________________________.
- My friends and relatives appreciate me for my _________________________.
- I like myself because I’m _________________________.
- I feel fulfilled and confident when _________________________.
Continue to develop your personal inventory/assessment/evaluation because it’s a fluid exercise. It’s also entirely worth every moment you spend on it: by paying attention to the things that matter to you, you’ll make discoveries about inner strengths and passions that have been in hiding for much too long, and reveal options and opportunities you may not have believed were there. Open the door, turn on the light, and expose your inner self.
Wisdom From Your Peers
“I believe a woman is only as worthy as the value she places on herself. We all have gifts, but for some reason it’s customary to deny or reject these gifts. It’s a shame to live in such denial for so many years, for age catches up with you – and if you don’t recognize the talents in yourself that you wish others would legitimize, no one will. If you don’t value your own worth, no one else ever will. It’s baffling to me that men are raised to be confident and self-assured. Women must overcome the unsavory notion our culture has instilled in us to be humble. It’s seen as arrogant or conceited to have the very same qualities that are valued in men. I suppose we are more fragile by nature, but somehow I can’t ever get past the notion of inequity in this respect. Perhaps our ultimate revenge for such an eternal ‘glass ceiling’ would be our unique ability of procreation. This is something a boy can never achieve …” – Athena Helbing, Retail Store Manager, Colorado
“My teenage years were the hardest in terms of my self-worth, which I’m sure is the case with many women. It’s such an awkward stage, and kids can be so cruel. I began to discover the best way to deal with my low-self-esteem issues was to set goals for myself and strive to achieve them. With every goal I attained, I began to feel more self-confident and secure. It’s something I still subscribe to in my personal and professional life, and it helps me be a more productive, healthy person.”- Julie Ashton, Casting Director, Ohio
“I think the most important thing for a woman to remember is that true worth comes from within – not from what others think of us, but from what we think of ourselves.” – Trish Ploehn , Child Welfare Director, New Jersey
“Having children has had a profound impact on my sense of self-worth. I became far more aware of my personal endurance, flexibility, intuitiveness, creativity, and patience. I have never felt more worthy than when I care for my children’s development, education, and welfare. However, even though having children helped to clarify my worthiness, that alone certainly does not define one’s worth.” – Ann Soh Woods, Home Management, Illinois
- What specific attribute, characteristic, or “fact” about yourself gives you a feeling of worth?
- How can you make myself feel better today?
- What do you do to make sure you honor the work you do in your home?
- What makes you laugh, smile, and feel joy? What are you doing to make sure that you experience those sensations every day of your life?
W.O.R.T.H. – Wisdom
I gain confidence by continuing to gain knowledge.
W.O.R.T.H. – Optimism
I establish attainable financial goals.
W.O.R.T.H. – Responsibility
I keep learning, reading, growing, and changing.
W.O.R.T.H. – Tenacity
I maximize my skill set. I increase my current skills.
W.O.R.T.H. – Honesty
I tell myself happy stories and write about what I am grateful for.
I love volunteering and helping others. It makes me feel good to give back.