On August 29th, I turn 40. Most people consider it a milestone birthday. I guess I do too.
I’ve been having lots of thoughts lately on what I’ve learned over the last four decades. The funny thing is, what I’ve learned over the last five years contradicts much of what I learned in the previous 35 years.
The greatest thing that I have ever done for myself, ever in life, has nothing to do with sustained hard work. Or motivation. Or ambition. Or consistency. Or being better than yesterday. Or any of that other stuff that people tell you is so important and is the key to happiness and success.
Nope, none of that.
The greatest thing that I have ever done for myself is become curious about my pain.
I started meditating five years ago. Why? Because I wanted to become a successful entrepreneur, and the entrepreneurs that I looked up to had meditation as part of their toolkit.
I wanted to be them, so I did it too.
During my first month of meditating after my father died, I started becoming more conscious of things. The meditation practice had me focus on my breath. My mind would wander every single time.
The first few times, I didn’t notice my mind wandering and I forgot about the breath about 20 seconds in. Then, I achieved a huge victory. I noticed when my mind wandered, and I brought it right back to the breath. Then I noticed it again and brought it right back again.
This noticing extended into other areas of my life. I noticed that frequently, I would expect a negative reaction from people if I asked them for something. It could be asking them for a favor, or it could be asking them if they wanted to go out to dinner.
I started noticing that happening and digging deeper into why that was happening. It took me quite some time to get to the source of it, but in the immediate time, I questioned whether or not it was true. I decided that it wasn’t.
Every time I automatically made an assumption that someone would react negatively to me, I decided that it wasn’t true. So, little by little, I started asking for things with the fear still inside of me.
Surprise surprise: I never got a single negative reaction. Even if it was just a friendly “no”.
This started my journey of becoming more and more curious about my pain. Curious about my triggers. Curious about why things were happening the way they were.
I had just gotten divorced, so I had plenty of time and space to explore.
It eventually led me to see a trauma therapist and get into a loving relationship with my soon-to-be wife Kristin, both of which have allowed me an immense amount of healing. I have never felt this good in my life. I have never felt this safe in my life. It just keeps getting better and better.
I have an undergraduate degree and an MBA. I was inducted into an academic honors society by finishing my MBA with a 4.0. I got two project management certifications. I have run several half-marathons and one full marathon. I received the top tenor score in my entire school district when trying out for district chorus in high school. Several times on the honor roll. Several speaker slots at tech meetups and conferences.
While all of them served their purpose in building me up, none of them made me feel nearly as good as I feel today. None of them made me feel safe. None of them allowed me to unload the pain that I’ve been carrying for a very, very long time so that my past doesn’t have to get in the way of my present.
As I enter my 40’s and mid-life, I do not want to base my self-worth on what our capitalist society and culture dictates. My self-worth is not based on my productivity. It is not based on my job title. It is not based on my salary. It is not based on my accomplishments.
It is not based on how fast I can run. It is not based on how far I can bike. It is not based on how much I weigh. It is not based on how much I can fill my time with activities.
It is not based on me “hitting my marks.”
Nope. My self-worth is based on the fact that I exist. I am worthy because I exist. I do not have to earn my worth.
How did I come to this conclusion? By becoming curious about my pain. The work led me down the path of believing that I am worthy as I am.
And you are worthy as you are. You don’t have to accomplish to be worthy. You can get curious about your pain and wounds and work to heal them. Work to give yourself exactly what you need, even if it isn’t what the people you follow on social media need.
Get curious about your pain and give yourself exactly what you need. You’re the only one who knows what you need, so you’re the only one who can do something about it.