The Power of “What If” When it Comes to Self-Worth

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Photo: Josh Gordon

In his book, Creative Calling, Chase Jarvis says, “To achieve a new mindset and transform your life, you have to believe two things: your situation — whatever it is — is changeable for the better, and you are capable of making that change happen.”

For me, it’s not difficult to imagine the kind of life I dream of living; one where I’m not stressed financially, perhaps one in which I even have savings. One where what I do to earn an income and what makes me feel the most fulfilled are not mutually exclusive. One where the things I spend my time and money on make an impact on others in a positive way, and that impact spreads through the world like wildfire.

As kids, we’re told to dream big, and so imagining these things is easy.

As adults, however, the world tends to make it fairly challenging to put those dreams into practice. Life takes over, years pass, and suddenly we find ourselves sort of stuck in various situations that aren’t meant for us. And we can feel they’re not meant for us because we know in our bones that it’s not what we’re meant to be doing, who we’re meant to be with, what living is meant to feel like.

But imagining what we want our transformed lives to look like, and actually believing it can happen are two different things.

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Photo: Morgan Basham

Belief can be intimidating because it challenges our concept of self worth.

If we don’t think we’re worthy of the world we imagine for ourselves, our fear will run rampant, taking mean swipes and petty jabs at whatever we think we want, or would like to believe we deserve.

“The gall you have to think you can gain a following! To even want that sort of success is egotistical and vain. And to ask someone for money, on top of it? Who do you think you are?”

“Look, you’re good at being a [stay-at-home-mom/stay-at-home-dad/server/accountant/banker/farmer/bookkeeper], why would you bother trying anything different? You really think you could do it? You can barely get out of bed some days.”

“Why would anybody want to listen to/watch/read what you have to say? There are plenty of other more accomplished, more experienced YouTubers or authors or podcasters than you. You’ll just get let down.”

Fear can be such a bully, and yet so much of the time we actually listen to that voice inside our heads, that voice that — in all reality — comes from one or two jerks in our lives who tried to, out of jealousy or bitterness, argue we wouldn’t amount to anything. In reality, more often than not, for almost every single story we buy into as to “why we’re not good enough,” there are a hundred more stories of people supporting us; telling us that we can and should pursue our dreams. Believing in us when we don’t believe in ourselves.

And yet, as Jen Pastiloff says, it’s the 1 in 100 that gains our attention. The one cantankerous person in a room of 100 supporters that we suddenly zero in on because we can’t bear that they don’t like us or don’t believe in us. Thus, we pour all our energy into facing them, rather than embracing what the other 99 wonderful, encouraging, loving people have to say.

It’s no wonder believing in ourselves — that we can change our lives or our mindsets — is so hard. When I first read Chase Jarvis’ quote, my heart sort of quaked in intimidation because I thought believing I could do something meant I had to know in my bones I could do it. Without question.

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What I’ve since come to realize is that belief is less about fortitude and unquestionable resolution. Rather, belief is more about simply being open enough to a concept that you’re willing to pursue the possibility of it happening.

If you’re curious, or if it’s something you desire, and you can at least allow yourself a generous, gracious, What If? That’s all you need to do.

After that, the most important thing that we can engage with — what we have to constantly be checking in with — is our authenticity. Are our actions aligning with the integrity of who we are and what we want? Are we speaking with compassion towards ourselves, or with judgment? Are we listening to the voice of love, or the voice of fear?

When we engage with our authenticity, we’re engaging with a massively important part of self-care, self-compassion, and self-love.

We’re being honest with ourselves about what we need. We’re acknowledging the validity of our emotions, while simultaneously knowing that sometimes we might need to hold ourselves accountable to a slightly higher standard. I’ve learned it can be far too easy, you see, to turn validating my own emotions into enabling them.

Sometimes, we do need to be alone. Sometimes our anxiety is too powerful, and we need to disengage from the world or our responsibilities because we’re genuinely overwhelmed, and we need to take care of ourselves. Other times, I’ve learned that when I disengage too consistently with the world, it becomes a habit of indulgence. I give into what I want, rather than working the muscle of discipline and patience in order to build the sort of endurance that helps me do what I need. When we work the muscle of our endurance, in whatever form, it helps us grow our tolerance, engage more genuinely with those around us, and more accurately analyze the difference between the voice of ego or fear, and the voice of our authenticity.

The ego, which has an unhealthy, ongoing love affair with fear (as well as past trauma), doesn’t want us to take risks for fear of failure. Thus, the ugly feedback it sends when we try to dream big:

You’ll never make it. You’re not worth it. Why would anyone care what you have to say?

I’ve also noticed a message of false humility try to score a number, too:

It’s vain, shallow, and conceited to want success. Just be grateful for what you have.

As if gratitude and success were mutually exclusive.

But success isn’t some end goal you just “attain,” like reaching the top of Everest. Success is a direction.

You plant your feet in the way you want to go, and then you keep walking. Sometimes, you have to consult your map, other times you have to push through barriers and obstacles, and other times you have to reorient yourself as you perhaps veer in the wrong direction. But always you keep following that path.

This concept of success is so important because it keeps us focused on our motivation to make an impact — on the root of why we started in the first place — rather than on any achievement itself. This way, it not only keeps us from craving more and more and more without hopes of being satiated, but it also consistently keeps us practicing mindfulness. As we check in with ourselves, as we focus on the direction we want to go, and set practical goals or check marks that help keep us engaged, we consistently participate in authenticity — which is the most valuable tool we have in our arsenal.

As Chase Jarvis also said, “Your point of view is the highest value you can bring.”

We all have signatures — tattoos that we leave on the world that present our voice, our style, our selves (thoughts, ideas, dreams, lessons, experiences, etc.), in a particular way unique to only us. What you have to say, what your experiences have taught you, what you’ve risked, lost, gained, learned, what you can imagine, and how you authentically embody that point of view, is the most valuable thing you have. Your greatest asset.

When you embrace who you are, allow yourself to dream, and set practical goals to accomplish those dreams, you show both your fear and the jerks in your life that their lies and their put-downs are unacceptable. When you give yourself permission to believe in your dreams, to ask “What if?” and to rigorously lay a practical framework to be able to access those dreams, that’s when transformation happens.

Transformation, though, is not instantaneous. It might take months, even years, before you see the fruits of your labor. But I can tell you right now, you’ll feel the fruits of your labor, when you start walking down the path you’re meant to walk.

And it will feel like freedom.

Perhaps you feel this now. Perhaps you’re already doing the thing you’ve always desired to do, you’re embodying the sort of person you’ve always hoped to embody. Or perhaps you’re just beginning to unravel the false narratives of who you’re supposed to be in order to become who you already are.

Wherever you’re at, remember not to fail yourself before you’ve even tried. It takes endless practice to overcome the negative thoughts in your head, to work on validating yourself and engaging with your authenticity on such a regular basis that it becomes second-nature. Even then, no matter how skilled you think you are, there will always be new ways for fear to attack your sense of self-worth and confidence.

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Just remember courage literally can’t exist without vulnerability.

Every time you show up despite your fear, that’s courage. That’s bravery. That’s you.

Also remember that obstacles are normal. Don’t take them for signs that you’re on the wrong path; think of them as challenges that help hone your craft. And then, all along the way, make sure to check in with your peace. If you’re not at peace with something, it’s a good sign you’re out of alignment with your higher purpose, and it might be a good idea to check your map and re-route.

On the other hand, follow whatever gives you peace, whatever fills you up, whatever gives you meaning and security and ease. That’s not to say you won’t have frustrations, nor that there aren’t times when we should be angry over injustices of many kinds. Those emotions are often useful, and even necessary. I mean, we’re complex human beings, right? We can find meaning in anger just as we can find meaning in joy.

We can also find meaning in the wanting of things, as well as gratitude in the wanting of success.

Just as we have to find balance in every other part of life, so too do we have to find balance between listening and speaking up; between working hard and asking for help; between doing the work for yourself rather than the praise of others, and wanting to be appreciated and acknowledged for what you do.

It’s okay to want things, my friends. Allow yourself to sit in the wanting. Allow yourself the vulnerability of it. The dreams. The What If’s.

Allow yourself to walk through the door of possibility, and then see what can come out the other side. You just might surprise yourself.

My name’s Julia. I’m a writer, and these are my COVID-19 weekly letters of encouragement.

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