The Doctor Will See You Now
What defines your worth?
A simple question with life-making implications. In my pediatric practice, I see kids every day who are lost: anxious, sad, stressed, hopeless, burned out, lonely. Sure, some of these kids are clinically depressed or eventually earn a diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder; I’m here to tell you, their journeys deserve their own blog post. But the majority of these kids are your everyday kids, caught up in the same everyday growing pains you likely remember from when you were their age. Where I practice, many of these kids are the so-called cream of the crop--top tier as far as their intelligence, talent, abilities, family support, and finances go. Their issues are as old as time and therefore, not insurmountable.
So what’s missing? These kids, like so many of their grown up counterparts, can’t answer the question I pose to each of them after they finish telling me how miserable they feel:
“What defines your worth?”
These are some of the smartest, most articulate kids you’ll ever meet and the conversation inevitably grinds to a halt then and there. I’ve come to expect the look of confusion that passes across their faces; the wrinkled brows, the sideways looks as they ponder. No one has likely ever asked them that question before. They assumed it was their grades. Their accomplishments. Their scholarships and their awards and their trophies and their resume-builders. And for some, their looks.
See, these kids are vying for their place in this world, just as we were when we were young. Racking up a list of achievements feels like checking boxes--it opens doors and holds their place in the proverbial “line” and keeps the adults in their lives from worrying about them. The problem is, it’s far too easy to let these accomplishments define them. It’s far too easy for us, as the adults in charge of truly seeing them, to allow these accomplishments to define them.
Wouldn’t it have been freeing to hear from someone who has seen a bit more of life than you that your self worth, the thing you bring to the table, has nothing at all to do with your GPA or which travel team you made or which college you won over. Consider that some of the chest-tightening anxiety of youth could be eased if someone you looked up to told you that you don’t actually have to do anything to be worthy. Your self worth comes from being, not doing.
Defining your self worth with accomplishments, a mistake I see being made over and over in my practice, is a set-up for anxiety and disappointment. What happens if you take an exam on a day you’re not feeling well? Or you break your leg right before the recruiters come to watch you play? Or even emptier, you’ve defined your self worth by your looks and you dare to get old? I’ve watched countless kids wipe tears away in my office as they “confess” that they got straight As except one A minus, which “blew” their entire GPA--they look like they’re confessing a crime. They look ashamed. They look like they don’t deserve a seat at the table.
Let’s teach our kids to look beyond their “doings” to their “beings.” Their hearts and their souls are so beautiful and irreplaceable and unique. Sure, strive and achieve and hope and push. But find something deeper to define you. Be brave enough to let the world see you, not your achievements. You might just find that you can breathe again.
I say, pull up that chair. Bring that unique, special you. Lift your chin. I’m here to see you now.