How the journey of a lifetime had an unknown destination.
I was 25 and unhappy. And I had no right to be. After all, I had everything anyone could want — a great job, a great education, somewhere to live, amazing friends. Yet, I was unhappy. Which also made me feel guilty and ungrateful.
As soon as I realised that I was unhappy, I promised myself I’d get to the bottom of it. That I would set out on a journey of discovery, which wouldn’t end until I understood why I, someone with everything, wasn’t deliriously happy.
My journey started with a bang. I imposed a ‘do not contact me’ order on a few people in my life who I instinctively recognised were toxic. Two were close family members. From this point on, I knew my journey wasn’t going to make me popular or meet with approval. But that didn’t matter — my promise to myself took precedence over all else.
The bang continued in the form of constant change, much of it, major. I changed jobs a couple of times, then moved 3,500 miles away from my hometown — I really felt I needed the space. For the next 18 years, I carried on changing jobs and moving endlessly. After each change, I’d get another piece of the puzzle and feel happier as a result, but, pretty soon, the unhappiness would return. Sometimes less intensely than before; sometimes more intensely.
I still had no real idea why I was unhappy, but was peeling back the layers of ignorance, one by one. Every now and then, I’d think I’d found the answer. This would manifest as my feeling lighter and happier for a longer period of time than usual. But then something would happen to knock me back down to earth.
After 18 years of being away, I returned to my hometown to look after an ailing parent. The minute I arrived, I knew that my journey was far from over. Every unhappiness button of mine was being pushed by what I was experiencing. This continued for seven long years, fuelled by intense stress and loss.
During that time, I flailed about, not knowing how to make my life feel any better. Until one cold winter’s day when I completely fell apart. I started crying and couldn’t stop. For hours. I had no control over it. When I finally did stop crying, I knew how to make my life feel better. I needed help.
I hated having to ask for help. After all, wasn’t I always the one who did the helping? Someone asked me why I found it so hard to ask for help when I clearly needed it. I, who is never lost for words, was lost for words. That intrigued me.
When I probed this further with people close to me, the question of ‘worth’ came up. “Maybe you don’t ask for help, because you don’t think you deserve to be helped,” observed a friend. “Of course I deserve help! Look at what I’m having to deal with on my own!” was my quick-fire reply. “Of course you deserve help! But do you think you’re deserving of help? Do you believe that you’re worthy of help?” was my friend’s considered response.
Stunned silence was my response this time.
This notion of worthiness sent me down a whole new path on my journey. “What is worthiness?” I pondered. “Is it confidence?”
I didn’t think so. Confidence seemed less deep — it was something you could fake ‘till you made it’. Yet, it was important — it seemed to hold your life together. I noticed — in myself and others — that when you had self-confidence, you were productive. You were both effective and efficient. I also noticed that productivity fed your self-confidence — like begat like. And that self-confidence was fragile.
Relentless stress or a sudden increase in stress levels seemed to be responsible for self-confidence’s fragility. It was as if stress tipped you over an edge into free fall. In free fall, you felt overwhelmed — you were no longer productive — and stuck. You didn’t know how to move forward — how to take yourself back to a place of self-confidence.
I noticed something bigger, too. That when your self-confidence took a hit for any length of time, a deeper part of you also took a hit.
My instinct told me that experiencing this feeling in the deeper place was more serious. It seemed as though poor self-confidence undermined your external self — whereas damage to this deeper place undermined your core self.
Damage to your self-confidence affected your productivity. Damage to your deeper self affected what you thought about yourself.
I could see that this deeper place clearly held the key to what had pushed me on my journey all those years ago. And, over time, I came to understand what it was — and why it was so important.
That deep place was my self-worth.
Your sense of self-worth is at the root of all of your belief systems. And your belief systems drive your behaviour and feelings.
So if you have great self-worth, then you’ll be a largely happy, “I can do anything I set my mind to” kind of person. If you have poor self-worth, you’ll be a largely unhappy, “I have no control over my life” kind of person.
The self-worth spectrum contains endless points, from ‘zero’ at one end to ‘true’ at the other. Building your self-worth takes a strong desire and relentless effort — no matter where you lie on its spectrum. Even if you start out with strong self-worth, it can be eroded by life’s challenges and your response to them.
But once you reach the ‘true self-worth’ end of the spectrum, you stay there. You stay there, because every cell in your body believes you are worthy. That you are worthy of love.
My journey led me to the discovery that love holds the key to everything. Because love is at the root of self-worth. If you believe you are loveable — worthy of receiving love — then you are worthy of receiving everything else. Of receiving help, of receiving remuneration in keeping with the value you add, of receiving kindness. And of truly giving love. Everything flows from love.
With love at its core, true self-worth is humble — it has nothing to prove. True self-worth is limitless — nothing holds it back. True self-worth is full of gratitude and joy. True self-worth is resilient to all of life’s challenges.
I promised myself over 30 years ago to find out why I was unhappy. And I kept my promise.
Because I am worth it.