When you get measured at the doctor’s office, does the medical professional use a random stick to reveal your height? Hopefully not. If they did, you might be 3½ sticks tall in one doctor’s office and 12 sticks tall in another.
That sounds ridiculous, right? But when it comes to measuring self-worth, many people use something just as unreliable as a random stick.
You may not even consciously think about what type of stick you use to measure your self-worth. But, it’s likely that you know deep down.
After all, when you feel like you’re measuring up, you feel good about yourself. But, when you feel as though you’ve fallen short, your self-esteem likely plummets. So while you may be aware of those fluctuations in how you feel, you might never stop to think about what type of measuring stick influences you so much.
While there are many ways you might measure your worthiness in life, it’s important to consider whether some of them are unhealthy. Here are five common–yet unhealthy–ways people measure their self-worth:
1. Your appearance.
While some people measure their self-worth by the numbers on a scale, others determine their value by how much attention they can attract with their appearance.
The media sends a message that “you’re only as good as you look.” And many marketing strategies target people’s insecurities over everything from weight gain to aging.
That’s not to say good looks won’t serve as an advantage in life. They certainly can. But a beautiful body or a handsome face won’t last forever.
Hair loss, wrinkles, and a middle-age spread can become catastrophic for anyone whose self-worth depends on their physical appearance.
2. Your net worth.
You likely know at least one person’s whose self-worth is measured by their income or material possessions. But people who measure their self-worth by the net worth never feel “valuable enough.”
And it’s not just wealthy people who define themselves by the size of their bank accounts. Many people live beyond their means in an attempt to feel “good enough.” But going deeply into debt to create a façade of wealth backfires in the end.
While goods and services have monetary value, they don’t reflect your value as a human being.
3. Who you know.
There are several ways people depend on others to give them value. While one person may only feel good about herself when she’s in a relationship, someone else may feel as though name dropping well-known people will gain the admiration from others he needs to feel good.
Some people only feel worthy when they surround themselves with important people. A lengthy list of personal contacts and a busy social calendar help them feel valuable and important.
Depending on other people to make you feel good is like chasing a moving target. You can’t control what other people think of you and certainly can’t please everyone all the time. You’ll never be able to receive enough praise and positive reinforcement to genuinely feel good about yourself.
4. What you do.
A career helps many people feel worthwhile. In fact, most people introduce themselves by saying what they do, such as by saying, “I’m a computer programmer,” or “I’m a lawyer.”
Their job isn’t what they do–it’s who they are. Their career reinforces to them that they’re “somebody.”
Basing your self-worth on your job title is a big risk. An economic downturn, unexpected shift in the job market, or a major health problem may put an end to your career and lead to a major identity crisis. Even a planned retirement may destroy your self-worth if your identity is tied to your job title.
If you’ve always measured your self-worth by what you do, you won’t feel good about yourself when your career ends.
5. What you achieve.
Sometimes people want to be known solely for their achievement. That person who brags about her latest business success may only feel good when she talks about her accomplishments. Or an individual who just can’t stop beating himself for a mistake he made, might struggle to move forward because he didn’t achieve what he needed to feel good.
While it’s normal to feel proud about your accomplishments, basing your entire self-worth on your achievement is like building your house on an unsteady foundation. You’ll need to experience constant success to feel good about yourself–and that means you’ll likely avoid doing things where you could fail.
How to Feel Good About Who You Are
The way you choose to measure your worth affects the kind of life you’re going to live. Use a measuring stick that is based on factors you can control–not the external events in your life.
When you know who you are–and you’re pleased with the person you’ve become–you’ll experience a sense of peace throughout life’s inevitable ups and downs. You’ll believe in yourself regardless of whether you’ve been fired, gone through a divorce, or failed to get a promotion.
Instead of chasing things that temporarily boost your self-esteem, measure your self-worth by who you are at your core. Behave according to your values and create a life of meaning and purpose.
Originally published at www.inc.com