“I see you in the rhymes of poets, they tell me of your worth.”
The aspiration of singer/songwriter Tim Lesmeister to provoke emotions and move people was realized as this verse from his newly released song both captivated and disturbed me. Conflicting sensibilities prompted me to dig more deeply to uncover the reason for my mixed reaction.
Captivated, was my first reaction. I immediately thought of those times when deeply seeing and experiencing a loved one or simply being present in a divine moment is so profound, words fail to capture the intensity of the feeling. Yet, poetry with its rhythm, words and structure thoughtfully chosen and then woven together, transcend the ordinary to evoke what is extraordinary in our memories and imagination.
As I listened to the song’s verse I wished it were I who was the poet. The one who could capture the actual sensation of our children being born and more recently pictures and videos of our new granddaughter. I wished to have the words to express the wonder of how the sound of my lover’s – of 45 years – voice can still move a tender place in me. I thought of the sense of being fully heard and understood by a long-time friend. I reflected back to a late night scene around a campfire on a beach, and a young man’s anguish and silent appeal for comfort, (I Hear You) and the privileged sense of knowing it was I who was called to offer the balm of solace. This is the turf of a poet’s rhyme.
Hearing the line from Tim’s song prompted my reflections, and brought me the simple pleasure of savoring what to me, were poetic moments in my life.
A few days after my memory feast, with the emotions of an uplifting chord progression coupled with touching images still resonating in my heart and mind, my thought trajectory was shifted as if the tune transitioned to minor chords prompting the emergence of shadowy nuances associated with poets telling me or someone else of my worth.
Shadowy because as I thought more deeply about the song “I See You”, which included the verse in question, I pondered the song’s broader exploration of pain around being seen. The pain coming from the fear of being seen and found wanting by others.
Shadowy, because even though I had to travel back across several decades to remember what it felt like to lay my self worth at the alter of another’s approval, the feelings those memories evoked were dark and potent.
Flitting images of a self I hardly recognize today flickered across my consciousness: newly married and eager to resolve any marital disagreement and restore harmony, I assumed a disproportionate level of ownership for the issues at hand; interactions in new friendships resulted in my second guessing myself as to whether I had said or done the appropriate thing; and moments of connection, fun, and camaraderie left me with a conditional sense of well-being.
Psychologists, social scientists and spiritual leaders acknowledge the importance of relationships in which others value you intrinsically. Brene Brown, author and researcher on vulnerability, courage, and belonging, referencing our spiritual essence, makes the point that there is a desperate need to belong in our very DNA.
A question, provoked by my mixed reactions to the song’s verse about worth, emerged. The question, “While it is part of the human condition to need and desire others to value and appreciate you, when does this need/desire become unhealthy or limiting?”
Some insights to this question came to me as I flashed back to a defining moment that occurred when playing one aspect of my corporate role, that of Leadership Coach.
As was my practice with one senior leader in particular, I titled the subject line of my email “A thought”. Because I had a long and trusting relationship with this senior leader, my subject line became kind of a short hand to say, “I have an observation that may be worthy of thought or discussion.”
In this case, the substance of my observations had to do with the role this leader was playing in the dynamics of his team. Dynamics which resulted in lack of focus, unity, and transparency around key messages and cultural norms. As I hit the send key, I had the realization that my email, could come across as critical or judgmental and could potentially anger this leader.
A few days later when we met, the leader told me he appreciated my candid feedback and thoughtful observations and asked to discuss them in more depth. As I left our meeting to walk back to my office in another building, I felt thankful at working with a leader that truly cared about his leadership. I felt a sense of joy that my insights could help him. I also noticed an absence of something. The something that was absent was the emotion of relief.
In my early adulthood, I sometimes told people what they wanted to hear due to fear of being disliked. Too often I became a prisoner of the need for approval and appreciation; limiting my ability to communicate honestly about what might have been in the best interests of another person.
In that moment, while I noted the leader was in no way angry with me, I felt no sense of relief as I likely would have in the past. My self-esteem and sense of self-worth were completely separate from his reaction to me or my email. The connection between how I felt about myself and this leader’s approval, pleasure or agreement with my actions had been irrelevant. I realized that the reactions of others in determining my sense of worth had been irrelevant for a very long time across the many roles and situations in my life.
I am not sure why in that particular moment, after many years of being free from the need for other’s approval, I became aware that my sense of worth was totally separate from another’s validation.
The reason for the epiphany that something had changed over time is less important than the lessons inherent in the actual change. The first lesson that stood out to me is that any deep-level growth and change takes commitment and work. I well remember in my early career, choosing to live my values even though the resulting conflict or disapproval of others was very difficult for me (Voices and Values). A continual resolve to speak up and take action to do what I thought was right did in fact lead to moments of anxiety and discomfort. Then over time those moments occurred much less frequently to the point of non-existence. The second lesson comes from understanding the different forms of valuing. I came to realize there is a big difference between inherently valuing yourself and others and valuing another based on superficial traits such as appearance or transitory behaviors or actions.
Today I acknowledge the need to belong and to be valued for who I am. There are few pleasures in life so great as to feel seen, known and loved and to give that to others in my life. I reject the notion of ceding the power to determine my worth to any other person.
After much thought, I embrace the poet’s rhyme and my husbands lyrics whose very words and cadence awaken me to your inner beauty and my own.
A CALL TO ACTION
Understanding the Basis for Inherent Worth
- When you consider your spiritual beliefs, how do they inform your sense of worth as a person?
Exploring and Celebrating Your Worth
- By definition, inherent worth implies valuing yourself for who you are versus what you do. In a previous blog, I See You I encouraged you to write a human being resume with a focus on who you are as a person. I shared an example of Tim and my human being resumes from the Significance Matters Website. If you have not already done so, write your human being resume.
- Look through your photos over time. Chose 3-5 photos that capture the essence or an aspect of the essence of who you are.
- Reflect on places where you feel most fully yourself.
- When you review your human being resume, your photos, and the places where you feel fully yourself, what things stand out to you?
- What things do you cherish about yourself?
- What are things that those in your life cherish about you?
Red Flag Warnings
- What are some red flags that are indicators that you may be giving the power to determine your worth to other people?
Honoring Your Self Worth
- Like anything of importance, being intentional about honoring and protecting your worth makes sense.
- With that in mind, what energy and care do you dedicate to choosing the people you let into your life?
- When you consider your home and work environment, how do you honor and protect your self-worth by the choices you make?
- How do you practice resiliency when difficult life experiences occur?
- What insights did you gain by reflecting on the above questions?
- Are there any commitments, actions or changes you wish to make to better honor your worth?