On self-worth: Pulitzers, yardsticks, and underreporting the value of you

In the pursuit of understanding one’s purpose in life, we often assign meaning and value to our work based on popularized and widely accepted definitions of worth and success. As a result, goals often end up being things like eradicating hunger, disease and injustice, being recognized as the best in our field, or earning a top-figure income.

Measures of success like those send a message: our work needs to have a big, significant, and visible impact to matter. Otherwise, we’re underdeveloped and haven’t reached our potential – we set the bar too low. The message is that when we fall short of those goals, we must keep going forward and (hopefully) upward.

Or does it?

Maybe what we need to do instead is acknowledge that our actions, every day, have a ripple effect not only on those immediately around us, but on our communities, cities, and environments. When we chase absolute successes (like getting bought out by Facebook or winning a Pulitzer), we define our purpose in life by scales that fail to value the small-but-mighty micro-influences we can and do have.

You don’t need to wait for accolades from your idols to feel proud of your work, or for overt acts of gratitude to feel valuable. We’re too often blind to the true positive impact we have on those we interact with for one minute, one year, one lifetime. Our lofty goals left unachieved, we underreport our value to ourselves and those around us because we missed the mark on the yardstick – never mind the progress we made.

Maybe that’s what we need to change.

To begin fully understanding our true value to ourselves and those around us, we need to reflect on the moments, however grand or little, that were meaningful to us each day. We should also share these reflections with those who helped create such moments with or for us, because what is more powerful than hearing that your presence has made a difference for someone?

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