“I spend an insane amount of time wondering if I’m doing it right. At some point I just remind myself that I’m doing my best. That is enough.” ~Myleik Teele
Only one more client. Only one more phone call. One more. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
And then maybe I’ll feel validated. Worthy. Appreciated.
That’s how success works, right? Everyone has to like you, think you’re amazing, and recognize all of your hard work for you to be successful? It was the road to anxiety, overwhelm and burnout that I discovered the hard way. You have to work hard for the business, forgetting your mental, physical and emotional health.
Let’s not scapegoat my business, however; my lack of self-worth started years, decades even before I opened my former company.
My age was the highest of all three.
AAU, or Amateur Athletic Union (or AAU) was a basketball league that I participated in during middle school. My coach was the only thing that made me feel good. I would judge my worth based on how I did in a game, whether we won, lost, or scored a certain amount of points. What I liked became what I hated.
High school basketball made me feel empty and fraudulent. If I wasn’t the best, who was I? It was exhausting to be under performative pressure.
I was an overachiever who never felt satisfied with anything.
Three times I took the SAT as a high school senior to get the scholarship to help pay the majority of my tuition. I received admission to the best state and private schools. I couldn’t apply to just one. It was necessary to submit my application to Just one more.
Each letter I received was a validation. As if I was truly accepted and felt that my life had purpose. Perhaps then I’d be worthy if I was accepted into the school I dream of.
“Where are you going in the fall”? That question was a difficult one for me to answer.
It was a very different thing to want to go to college than to actually do it.
I was sent by my parents to an elite college preparatory school. We were literally reading course catalogues our first year. This was my next achievement.
After returning from spring college tours, my mother told me to pay room and board. It was up to me to find out how. It was hard for my 18-year old self to accept that I would be staying home and attending community college. My parents were angry at me, I felt frustrated by all of the work that I’d put in and had nothing to show for them.
My self-worth and need to prove myself were at their highest. The constant, annoying companion of anxiety was also present.
I graduated from community college after two years and then transferred to state college. My major was education. My goal was to become a leader and a change agent. I made the Dean’s list, worked my way through college, and even got married.
Following graduation, I was a teacher of physical education as well as the athletic director at a school. My degree was something I had worked hard to obtain. I thought I’d finally find happiness and fulfillment by using it. The principal bullied and gaslit me every day, taking my joy in my chosen career. It was a difficult job, but I did it. Shouldn’t that be enough?
It was a badge I proudly wore. In spite of all this, I didn’t feel worthy. As the things I’d worked so hard for were taken away from me, I began to wonder if success was even in the cards.
I felt lost. Undeserving. My first year in marriage was my focus. I also taught and worked on extended family relationships. Was I going to be accepted?
The overachiever me would believe if they tried enough.
Wait, wasn’t I an overachiever too? It could have been something more.
Did I become addicted to work hard to prove my worth?
My thirties were filled with anxiety, depression and a problem drinking. I thought I’d be happy if I could just make it in business.
This is a great crock.
My patriarchal expectations of me, which I tried to live up to, kept me from living a peaceful life. If I just, “hustled,” and “grinded,” despite the effects on my mental, emotional, and physical health, I could finally prove my worth. What all that proved was the importance of mental health. I am not worthless for my work.
How did I get from being codependent and looking for validation to understand that all of us are born worthy?
To begin, I needed to identify what truly lights me up. If you’re trained to see outside of yourself as validation, passion, playfulness, or purpose disappear.
I’d spent my life focused on achievement. What did “success” even mean? It wasn’t until I was well into my thirties that I realized success, to me, means freedom, and freedom meant letting go.
It was then that I needed to be radically open with myself about how I was raised, what my beliefs were, and my relationship with my family.
Did I really want to run the service-based business I’d started after I quit my teaching job, with several employees, ongoing calls and emails, that had me working holidays, nights, and weekends, and that left me in a people-pleasing tailspin on a regular basis?
The honest truth is that I don’t think so.
I felt relief. I did not regret, nor long for, sadness.
The realization that I was not pleasing people, had to stop overachieving and needed external validation made me reevaluate my entire life. This meant I had to set some boundaries and reflect on myself.
Looking back through my years of wearing my hard work in school as a badge of honor, drowning in my former business like a sacrificial lamb, and navigating the sometimes-chaotic waters of a new marriage and family, I can finally understand that my worthiness doesn’t come from others. I am enough. The only thing that makes me one is my inner self.
To get to the bottom of my unworthiness and worry was an extensive dive into my young adulthood and childhood. I realized I carried toxic shame and guilt and believed that if I was just “enough,” I would be able to finally be free.
It turns out that the exact opposite is true. It becomes all-consuming to chase. I’d been walking in water and doggie-paddling without realizing that it was the pool of people-pleasing which was holding me back.
Today, creativity takes over hard work. Clarity takes the spot of drinking to cope. Self-compassion replaces validation-seeking to show my worth. Anxiety is a toxic friend. Although she still enjoys showing up unannounced to my social gatherings, I am able to accept her and maintain healthy inner dialogue.
I’m a former high achiever. You are worth much more than your achievements and work. Do you have one more client to refer? One more phone call? It’s over. Freedom is my choice.
About Nicole Ryan
Nicole Ryan is an advocate for mental health, entrepreneur, coach and facilitator of boundary setting. She helps people succeed in business as well as in life. She is an educator, business owner and has used her experiences as an athlete director and as a teacher to help her clients set boundaries and conquer people pleasing. You can find her Setting Boundaries Start Up Guide here.
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Did I really just try to prove my worth? Tiny Buddha published the post Was I an Overachiever or Really Just Trying to Prove My Worth?