How to avoid perceiving productivity as an indicator of our self-worth

by Alexa Diego | August 2020

Have you ever thought to yourself why you find success so important that it negatively affects your feelings of self-worth? Then, it may be fruitful to explore the genesis of these thoughts. 

For many of us, the idea of evaluating our self-worth based on productivity has its root in our upbringing. Many of our parents inadvertently taught us that success is the only way to become someone worthy. Being the child of immigrant parents, I personally have learned how important it is to be as productive as one can be to become successful. This value may create the inability to separate the idea of productivity to self-worth which may affect mental health. When people have a difficult time with maintaining a certain amount of productivity, their self-esteem may decline, they may feel worthlessness, or they may experience cognitive distortions about themselves. 

We live in a very capitalistic society that greatly values productivity and success. This is not necessarily a bad thing. This society needs productivity in order to function effectively. However, learning to be able to separate productivity and self-worth from one another is essential to prevent falling into a pattern of negative self-talk or in extreme cases even lack of self-love. It is important to understand that not being the most productive sometimes does not mean that we are lazy or that we are not worthy of being successful. Rather, this just means we are human and need some time to recharge so that we can continue doing a good job and meeting our goals. 

Some signs you may be equating your self-worth to your productivity:

  • You are avoiding others (friends, family) due to not wanting to get behind in your work. There is more to life than just working or being productive. Sometimes you deserve a break and it is okay to put work aside for a bit to spend time with loved ones. 
  • Finding yourself working all the time, not enjoying other things in life. While careers/jobs can be part of our identity, they are not all we are. 
  • You feel lazy or worthless if you don’t have a full, busy schedule. Being busy isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if it is affecting you emotionally and mentally, then that is a problem.
  • You are not finding the work enjoyable, rather something you are doing to make others happy. Productivity can be a good thing if you are finding fulfillment out of it, but when the only time you partake in keeping busy or striving for a certain success is for another person, it may be useful to reevaluate for values. 

Reflect on the following statements:

  1. Of course it feels good to see others feel proud of us, but do you ever find yourself evaluating your self-worth on whether others find you successful? 
  2. Ask yourself: Why do I find productivity so important? What are the ways in which this has affected my self-worth?