Ways not to define your self-worth

By how much smarter you are than anyone else

It’s impossible to overstate how important knowledge is. The sum of your knowledge shapes your personality and abilities.  So having an encyclopedic amount of knowledge in your brain will truly make you a stronger, more complete person. However, being smart doesn’t warrant being conceited, because being conceited about your intelligence is shortsighted and illogical on multiple levels.

There’s more to know about life than your brain is capable of comprehending. Bragging about being the smartest person in the room is like an ant bragging about being the smartest ant in the hive. All it proves is how little you really understand about life.

Even if you know that you don’t know everything, you may still be tempted to feel better than other people if you’re the foremost expert in your field, but that just means you’re great at one or a few things. Most people are really good at one or two things, and everybody knows about all sorts of things that you never will. Being really good at something doesn’t make you any better than anyone else. All it proves is that you’re doing something while you’re alive, and you were supposed to be doing something anyway. So bragging about knowing something is jerking yourself off for doing the mandatory minimum.

By all means, strive to become a genius. That’s what you’re supposed to be doing, but how far you’ve walked your path doesn’t have anything to do with anyone else. The person next to you is just another animated pile of stardust, on their own, private quest to figure out what the heck they’re doing here.  If you’re smart enough to understand the value of life you wouldn’t place others beneath you because of their IQ level. You would treat everyone with the full respect and appreciation that a living, breathing, conscious animated pile of start dust deserves.

By how less smart you are than everyone else

If you’re not academically inclined, don’t judge yourself contemptibly. You don’t have to be as smart as anyone else to justify your existence. Your worth is not determined by your test scores or anyone else’s. The value of your existence stems from the fact that you’re in a unique position in all of space and time to do something that nobody else can do: become you. You don’t need to match other people’s success. You just need to find what interests you and learn what you can about it for your own personal sake.

By the size of your bank account

Money has no inherent worth. It’s a symbolic medium of exchange that represents whatever it can be traded for, which is almost everything. Since money is so powerful, the more of it you have, the more people will love, forgive, respect, worship, fear and obey you. If you have enough money to effectively wield the power of a demigod, and people are always treating you like one, eventually you might start identifying as one.

If you don’t have any money, and you have to work like a slave for a rich boss who treats you like a subhuman creature, you might start to feel like a subhuman creature. If you spend long enough unable to afford good food, housing, clothes, transportation or leisure, eventually you may forget or just stop believing that life could be any other way. After you get used to living like a subhuman, you might start to identify as a subhuman.

These assumptions are shortsighted though, because while money affects what you can do in a monetary economy, it doesn’t affect what you inherently, fundamentally are, because what you are, is a mind with a body that grew out of an inexplicable spinning wad of atoms. You’re a phenomenal cosmic miracle mystery, the existence of which raises profound questions and possibilities. The root of your value extends all the way back to before the big ban, but money is just dust in the wind.

While having money/debt can’t define what you are, what you do with it does. Your spending habits are your choices. They’re based on your values and are indicative of your prime prerogative. If you choose to spend your life jerking yourself off over how much money you have and hording overpriced designer widgets, instead of solving the world’s problems, you’re going to look like an infantile jerkoff to whatever created you. If you do choose to use your money to solve the fundamental problems facing humanity, there’s no telling how far your actions will echo.

By how much power you have over other people

If you live long enough, you’re going to find yourself in a position of authority over someone else. You’ll have the power to inflict real world consequences on that person if they don’t obey you, and you’ll be able to point to real world reasons why your authority is justified. The longer you spend in a position of authority and the more authority you have, the more you’ll get used to it. Eventually your brain will just take the social hierarchy you and everyone else lives by for granted. If/when that happens, you’re likely to assume that you really do deserve power over people… and that the people beneath you deserve to be controlled by you.

The fact that one person can control another has no bearing on the intrinsic worth of either person. We’re all equal. Our ancestors just taught our elders to teach us customs that stratify humanity into tiers where certain people have control over other people’s lives. These customs don’t reflect the intrinsic nature of reality. They’re just the rules of a game that people made up. Authority is a social contract between equal beings deserving of equal respect.

By how much power other people have over you

If you live long enough, eventually you’ll find yourself at the bottom of a pyramid shaped authority structure. Often times the people with power over you will force you to perform gestures of subservience to them like bowing, saluting, addressing them as “Mr.,” “Mr.” “Sir,” “Ma’am,” “Your Honor,” etc. If you get used to treating other people like they’re a higher form of life than you, then eventually you’re likely to start believing it, which is why these customs were created in the first place, to subjugate the subjugate-able. When your superiors have the authority and resources to threaten, punish and control you, it seems all the more real that they’re more than you. But like I said in the previous section, the power structures around you are made up. Your position in society doesn’t define your intrinsic worth.

Make no mistake though, you can’t just go around telling your parents, bosses and police that their authority is a fraudulent pyramid scheme, and you don’t have to obey them. If you do that they’ll draw on the real world resources available to them to punish you in a very real way. And sometimes they should for your own good. So, sure, fight the system if it’s doing more harm to you than good, but understand that you have to play by the rules to survive. Just try not to let it get you down. You’re worth more than your superiors say you are, and they’re not worth as much as they think they are.

By your beauty or lack thereof

Beauty isn’t a force of nature woven into the fabric of the universe like gravity, space or light. It’s an idea that exists nowhere else in the universe except the neurons of animals’ brains. It’s not even an original idea. It’s an instinct that was preprogrammed in our brains as a rote survival mechanism. So on a lot of levels, when we look at something in awe, lust or disgust, it’s nothing personal. You shouldn’t be too flattered or offended by preprogrammed knee-jerk selfish reactions that happen in the brains of tiny animals.

Tiny animals we may be, but we’re still important. If you cut the integumentary system off of a human and look at what’s under our skin, you’ll see a machine so complex it defies all explanation. The design of the human body is as complex as the design of the solar system we live in. Your body is a force of nature strong enough to conquer light and gravity, which in my opinion makes you worth more than a star, more than a galaxy.

On the cosmic scale of things, it’s a nonevent if someone (including you) likes or dislikes the way your integumentary system looks. Your base worth is already infinitely valuable. So anyone’s opinion of your is already irrelevant.

Granted, it’s hard to stay optimistic when people call you ugly names and treat you like you’re worth less than them. All I can say is, try to keep in perspective what’s happening and what’s truly important. All that really matters is that you achieve your life goals. That’s how you earn a more personally meaningful life. People’s opinion of you is just one rote side-detail you pass by on the highway of life that leads to your dreams.

By your age or lack thereof

The fact that you just happened to be born before or after someone else has no bearing on the intrinsic value of either person. Being old may give you authority/responsibility over younger people, but that has no bearing on the intrinsic value of either person either. Your personal experiences/accomplishments have no bearing on anyone else’s life other than your own. Nobody owes you anything just because you were born before them and did stuff while you were around. You don’t owe anyone older than you any more honors than they owe you. We’re all equals on different stages of the same journey. There’s simply no sane reason to conclude that the chronological stage of one’s journey has any positive or negative affect on the worth of a separate being.

Without comparing yourself to others, you might still judge yourself for being too young or too old.  If you do, you might want to take a camping trip and rethink how you define your self-worth. People are like trees. Young and old trees don’t suck more than adult trees. They’re all just trees that, when placed next to each other make a beautiful forest. Granted, it’s hard to be so optimistic when you’re getting spanked by your parent or staring at the wall of a retirement home thinking about how you don’t have any time, friends, family, money or energy left. The truth is, sometimes life sucks. That’s the cost of living. Luckily, your comfort level isn’t synonymous with the value of your life.

By your success.

Being successful is useful, and you should feel proud of your accomplishments. However, having success doesn’t change what you are any more than having money, beauty or authority does for all the same reasons. Success isn’t a force of nature. It’s a perception that doesn’t exist anywhere else except in your mind, and your idea of success is different from everyone else’s. So if you believe you’re successful, it’s only because you’ve achieved your personal goals. That doesn’t mean you’re worth more than the day you were born or that you’re worth more than anyone else who hasn’t achieved what you’ve achieved.

Also, just because you’ve achieved something doesn’t mean the thing you achieved matters. There are a lot of people out there constantly succeeding, yet constantly failing to achieve anything meaningful in life.

By your failures.

It’s easy to view your failures as proof that you’re incapable, inferior, defective, and worthless. But again, this is just your perception. The goals you’re failing to achieve may not even be important, and you might be beating yourself up for failing to live a counterproductive lifestyle.

Any goal you want to achieve requires mastery of some skill, and the only way to hone a skill is by practicing. Only by doing things wrong can you learn how to do them right. There’s really no such thing as failure. There’s only the learning processes. So if you’re failing at something, that means you’re on the path to mastery. Granted, it might not feel like you’re mastering anything if say, your marriage fails and you lose your house, but your tragedy will teach you lessons that could have prevented your loss if you’d known them earlier. Look, no sports team gets to win every game, but the only way to win after a loss is to keep playing and apply the lessons that cost you so dearly to learn.

Suppose you did screw up big once or twice or a thousand times, and you learned all the lessons you should have from those mistakes… but you still feel guilty for screwing up so bad in the first place at all. If that’s the case, your heart is in the right place, but your perception is shortsighted. You wouldn’t have made the mistakes you made then if you knew the things you knew now. Since you didn’t know the things you know now, there’s no way you could have made the right decisions then. You hadn’t experienced enough of life to know the right thing to do, and the only way you were ever going to learn about life is by experiencing it unprepared. Sure, if you screwed up, then on some level, that’s bad or else it wouldn’t need to be corrected, but on the cosmic scale of things, failure is growth.

By how much you’re mistreated

The subconscious processes in your brain tend to associate the way you’re treated with your self-image. That’s just human nature. Maybe it’s a design flaw, or maybe there’s a higher purpose. We don’t know. However, we do know that if you take a pair of identical twin babies and raise one in an abusive house and another in a loving house, the one in the loving house will grow up with higher self-esteem. So the difference isn’t the individual, it’s the environment.

You can only base your perception of reality on what you’ve learned from your environment, but even though you’re a product of your environment, you’re more than that. You have the capacity to consciously build on what you’ve learned. So if a lifetime of abuse has left you feeling depressed, you should see a mental health professional and learn the facts of life that weren’t handed to you by the people you ended up surrounded by. One of the things a mental health professional will likely teach you is that when people are abusive, they’re usually just projecting their own fears, traumas, stresses and negative self-image. In other words, people don’t treat you according to who you are. They treat you according to who they perceive you to be, which is a shadow of who they see themselves to be.

By what ancient mythology says you’re worth

Humans have invented thousands of religions, but none of them pass every test for truth. They all contain scientifically inaccurate claims, speculation, contradictions, absurdities and moral values that reflect the cultures that produced them. There isn’t one single religion that humans could rediscover and recreate exactly the way it was originally written, because they’re all based on the personal experiences, values, prejudices, misunderstandings and speculations of the original authors.

Every religion humans have ever created contain enough evidence to fit the definition of mythology. Sometimes mythologies teach us that God loves us, but they tend to also teach us that we don’t deserve to be loved by God. They tend to teach that we’re sinners who need to atone for our evil ways. Often times they teach us that humans can be divided into the righteous and the wicked or the high caste and the low caste. These claims can’t be backed up with empirical evidence. They’re just ideas created by people who don’t understand their place in the universe. I’m not saying that I understand our place in the universe, but I do know that you shouldn’t base your self-worth on any belief system which passes the mythology test.

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2 responses to “Ways not to define your self-worth

  • Linda Gerstmann

    Dear Travis; You can have all the knowledge in the world, and still not have the common sense that God gave to a housefly. I’ve known people who were smart who still got themselves in unbelievably hot water. As for money, it’s printed out of thin air, so the emperor has no clothes. So these people who think they are billionaires are really not, and they have to eat food, drink water, breathe air and take a shit just like everyone else. And when the food, water and air run out because of environmental abuse, we’ll all be pretty-much equally dead. And religions are just lies we tell each other because we’re all afraid to die. Just sayin’.


  • Samuel Dokowe

    Wow! My best read so far.


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