July 10, 2018

I’ve been on a Brené Brown kick recently, and I’m not fighting it. While reading Dr. Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection some time ago, I was struck by her, “Worthiness Prerequisite List.” The worthiness list is basically a list of stuff in your head that you think needs to happen before you can be truly worthy of love, belonging, feeling successful, etc.

It's essentially you saying, "I'm not enough on my own, so to be happy, I need X."

We all do this.

We don't necessarily phrase it as, "I'll be worthy when..." but that's the subtext of our thoughts and behaviors. Every time you attach your worth to an external marker, you deny yourself happiness.

Every time you attach your worth to an external marker, you deny yourself happiness.
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Some common worthiness prerequisites that I hear include:

I'll be worthy of calling myself successful when people don't start meetings without me.
I'll be worthy of being a 'grown-up' when I buy my own home.
I'll be worthy of calling myself healthy when I eat only organic and work out at least five days a week.
I'll be worthy of happiness when I pass the bar.
I'll be worthy of relationship satisfaction when we're engaged.
I'll be worthy of feeling like I have my stuff together when my apartment is perfectly clean and organized every day.

And some examples from Dr. Brown's book:

I’ll be worthy when I lose twenty pounds.
I’ll be worthy when I can get pregnant.
I’ll be worthy if I get/stay sober.
I’ll be worthy if everyone thinks I’m a good parent.
I’ll be worthy when I can make a living selling my art.
I’ll be worthy if I can hold my marriage together.
I’ll be worthy when I make partner.
I’ll be worthy if he calls back and asks me out.
I’ll be worthy when I can do it all and look like I’m not even trying.

Dr. Brown’s point is that unless we do the work to shake ourselves out of it, we all remain in this constant state of feeling "almost there" with regard to fully experiencing ownership over our lives and our self-worth. She explains in her book:

“…We spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving.”

Ironically, as Dr. Brown notes, our sense of worthiness is in our story and never outside of it. But we run away from our story and try to make a more sparkly version up. We do some serious editing because we’re scared of what people will think and we want others to approve of us first so that we can more confidently approve of ourselves.

Our sense of worthiness is in our story and never outside of it.
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We look for proof, evidence, and permission that it’s okay to be comfortable in our own skin, but that permission can only be granted by one person.

Remember that amazing scene in Bridget Jones’ Diary? Colin Firth's character tells Renée Zellweger’s character all the messy things about her and then says, I like you, just as you are. It's time to do that for yourself.

When we embrace the parts of ourselves that don’t seem to fit our vision of what it will be like when we’re X, we become unstuck and realize that we’re already there.

Being "already there" means that you allow yourself to feel that you already belong to whatever proverbial club you’re trying to get into. You stop waiting for someone to announce that you’re important and put you on the list. You realize that you’re the bouncer, and you stop rejecting yourself.

Being "already there" means that you allow yourself to feel that you already belong to whatever proverbial club you’re trying to get into.
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Incidentally, once you’re "in," you notice that everyone else there is just like you. One of my favorite quotes is from Ricky Gervais: “The best advice I ever received is, No one else knows what they’re doing either.”

The good parent's club includes parents who freak the expletive out sometimes, the over 50,000 followers on Instagram club includes members who have no idea what their professional trajectory looks like, the super smart people’s club includes members who sometimes pretend to know what a word means during a conversation even though they have no clue—you get the point.

It’s not avoiding these insecurities, but encountering and overriding them that gives people access to their own self-worth.

So, what’s on your worthiness list these days? What's your "When I have X, get to Y, conquer Z—then I'll be worthy?" Whatever it is, know this: You decide when you're worthy—so, why not start now?

A version of this article originally appeared on www.katherineschafler.com


Read next: 13 Things That Don't Determine Your Self-Worth