How Contingent Self Worth Prevents Us from Seeking Our Purpose
Note: Please read Why Worthiness? for a full breakdown of the difference between contingent and inherent self worth.
Contingent self worth is the belief system that dominates our culture. In short, it reads like this - You (everyone) will be worthy when _________. And then there are a million things to fill in the blank depending on your identity and circumstances. Money, beauty, power, fame, success etc. It’s not so important what the fill in the blank is, because the impact is the same. When we believe in this idea, we fluctuate in our belief of our worthiness.
There are many problems with this system, first and foremost - it makes people miserable. The goals generated from contingent worthiness are often impossible to attain. They are frequently moving targets, so when we reach one the next one comes into view, just out of reach. Sometimes people are super successful and still feel unfulfilled. That’s because the mindset is designed to create lack of fulfillment. And then people think, ‘what’s wrong with me? Why am I still unhappy?’ This is sometimes the place clients are in when they first contact me.
I often ask clients to tell me what their goals are. Then I’ll ask them to blow it up to 1000% - what would it look like then? It’s a lot of fun.
Take a moment to do this yourself. Imagine your goal at 1000%. Fully achieved. Done. Complete. What would you do next?
Many people draw a blank here. Often I hear sweet stories of how people would spend time with family and friends, or pursue their beloved but ignored hobbies. Some people tell me they would just live a slower life and spend more time petting the cat.
Full disclosure - I’m a big fan of goals, I’m a coach after all. But when we set goals that are based in the mindset of contingent self worth, we are setting ourselves up for a letdown.
One of the unseen consequences of chasing goals that are derived from the contingent self worth model is that we may miss out on our purpose. This happens because purpose is something that takes time to cultivate. It takes open space, and reflection. It requires that we sit with ourselves, do the work of stripping away the armor we accumulated to survive in the “not enough” culture and see who we really are and what we are meant to bring to the world. It’s hard to have much energy left when we spend all our time chasing goals to try to justify our existence.
Here’s a way you can check in and see which mindset your goals come from:
Contingent Self Worth Goals:
Meaning is made only at the finish line.
All the work towards the goal is diminished because you haven’t achieved the goal yet.
Creates feelings of urgency and fear.
If/then thinking - “If I __(goal)__, then I’ll be __(quality of worthiness)__.”
Inherent Self Worth Goals:
Meaning is made from the effort towards the goal as well as achieving the goal.
The work, struggle, effort towards the goal brings you great fulfillment, even if the goal is never reached.
Creates feelings of groundedness, connection, faith, sense of purpose.
Embraces the paradox of striving for more while being content with where you are.
So, which mindset drives your goals?