“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
~ Eleanor Roosevelt
In this post, I want to talk about fear. In particular some common fears we have around the value or worth of our work, which often stems from us tying our self-worth to our work.
Last year, a member of my Female Business Academy posed this question to the group.
I recently started accepting invitations to deliver group workshops (something I used to turn down because of a fear of public speaking) and a part of me realises that I still have a fear of someone criticising my work and saying that I am not adding value. I know that a part of me fears rejection because if people think I’m not adding value, then it may be a reflection of my worth. I know this is a belief that I shouldn’t have but it always seems to crop up when I am doing things like creating my own workshops. My worry is that if no one turns up, it’s a sign that people don’t think my work is of value. So my question is: how do I stop tying my work to my self-worth?
It’s such an important and universally relevant question that I asked her if she minded me sharing it and my response. Here is what I said.
Every single one of us to some extent worries that what we have to share won’t be seen as valuable
This is a fear that SO many of us can relate to, in fact I’d dare to say all of us can relate to. One of my favourite stories is where Oprah shares how after every single interview she has ever conducted, the person in the chair opposite her, regardless of their position or status in life, leans in and asks something along the lines of “was that okay?” What this tells me is that we all worry that what we have to say or share with the world might not be good enough, important enough or valuable enough, whether you are the President of the United States or Beyonce! (To see Oprah telling this story, head here to watch a 2 minute video.)
If we all have this fear then it’s not something we need to feel bad about.
If we have all had this fear at one time or another, then it seems futile to try to fight against it. To me, fears about our value and worth are simply part of being human and rather than be something we rail against can instead, with a simple reframe, become a positive driving force. Consider the difference between these two questions:
1. What if nobody thinks my work is valuable?
2. What steps could I take to make my work as valuable as it can be?
It’s quite clear to see which of these evokes a negative response and which evokes a positive one. When we see our desire to be of value as a positive and engage our brain in finding ways to be of value rather than worry about the fact that we might not be, we find ourselves in a completely different position. Of course I should point out here, that your value as a precious human being is a given whether your work is seen as valuable or not, but hearing this and even knowing it to be true is rarely enough to free ourselves from the fear.
As well as this useful reframe, it’s also important to note that when we make ourselves wrong for having a fear, (“I know this is a belief that I shouldn’t have“) we pile onto ourselves another layer of crap that simply serves to make us feel worse and just in case it isn’t obvious, feeling bad about ourselves is not conducive to producing our best work.
We don’t need to eradicate fear to defeat fear
With the above in mind, rather than being in resistance to our fears, accepting them begins to make more sense. We often believe that in order to move forward and deliver our best work, we must eradicate our fears around value and worth, but that’s simply not true nor is it realistic. Instead, we can do what Pema Chodron advises in her beautiful book, When Things Fall Apart:
How to Defeat Fear
Once there was a young warrior. Her teacher told her that she had to do battle with fear. She didn’t want to do that. It seemed too aggressive; it was scary; it seemed unfriendly. But the teacher said she had to do it and gave instructions for the battle.
The day arrived. The student warrior stood on one side, and fear stood on the other. The warrior was feeling very small, and fear was looking big and wrathful. The young warrior roused herself and went toward fear, prostrated three times, and asked, “May I have permission to go into battle with you?”
Fear said, “Thank you for showing me so much respect that you ask permission.”
Then the young warrior said, “How can I defeat you?”
Fear replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.”
In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear.
When we fail to do what fear tells us we defeat fear.
What a liberating idea.
This is similar to what Liz Gilbert shares in her amazing book Big Magic, when she invites fear along on all of her road trips but doesn’t let him drive, read the map or change the radio. To watch a short 5-minute video I made of myself reading this segment of her book click here or the image below.
So in summary, what do you do when fears come up about the value of your work that feel tied to your self worth? Accept the fear, don’t beat yourself up for having the fear and whatever you do, don’t do what fear says and in doing so, you loosen fears grip on you.
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