We all grow up under the influence of others. A perpetual DUI ticket that we can never fully erase from our permanent record.
Self Respect. Self Worth. Self Love.
My parents never mentioned such words. Instead, the phrases on repeat were:
“Put your whole heart into what you do”
“Call your heart.”
The message was: If I did things to the best of my ability, then I wouldn’t be able to disappoint myself.
I think this is a solid form of self-love. Incomplete, but a valid part of it. Self respect and Self Worth were a different story though. When the majority sees you as different, other, and as a visitor, it changes the way you see yourself. For this, my parents said:
“You’re in someone else’s country, so you must stand up and work harder, faster, better to prove that you belong here.”
This meant working more. Going above and beyond. Anticipating what needs to be done, then doing it, and then NOT asking for recognition or fair compensation because being humble and hard-working and agreeable shows that you’re smart and valuable and lifts up the entire Asian population. The message was:
If I can prove to the majority that I am valuable and they can accept me, then I will be able to see myself as a valuable worthy person.
At the time, it made sense to them and it made sense to me, but hinging your worth on external validation and acceptance is a slippery slope. I think it has back-fired for the entire Asian-American population. People expect everything (labor and goods) in all Chinatowns in the USA to be cheap because we undervalue ourselves, and thus, the majority undervalues us back. Being cheap in price does not prove that we are competitive, nor does it prove that we belong here. It just perpetuates the system of immigrants working 2x or 3x harder, simply to serve the majority.
When the term “quiet quitting” started to make the rounds, I found it disgraceful. What sort of self-respecting person does a half-ass job? That sort of mindset was worlds away from what I had been taught – because minorities don’t have the luxury to half-ass anything. It’s whole-ass, or no-ass. But the entire quiet-quitting movement was supposed to be based on self-respect and self-worth. Just goes to show that you can approach the same subject from opposite ends.
The thing that these two approaches have in common are that they are both defined by external factors. It is either validation from your boss and peers, or literally your worth being defined by your salary, with each external factor influencing your behavior and decisions.
For many years, I walked through a kind of depression fog, the result of a lifelong cocktail of clashing value systems. Perhaps I was a quiet quitter in my own life, feeling unenthusiastic and lacking optimism, while simultaneously forcing myself to go 110% towards destinations I wasn’t truly convinced I wanted.
Arriving at my own definition of self-worth has been a long journey, and it’s still ongoing. I’ve learned that self-worth is not at all about being accepted by others. It starts by accepting yourself, which then opens up an avenue to self love.
Self-love can not be described any better than in this beautiful poem, Love After Love, by Derek Walcott
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
I hope everyone will one day arrive at their table, sit, and feast on their lives. Give back to their hearts, and love themselves. Wishing you all the best…. -Lisa