Retire from the Self-Worth Sweatshop
Constructed between the years 1675 – 1710 St. Paul’s Cathedral is one of the most astounding sites in London. Among its architectural achievements, it boasts of the first triple-domed cathedral in the world. When Sir Christopher Wren embarked on erecting the dome, which stands 366 feet high and weighs approximately 66,000 tons – equivalent to 20,000 elephants – such an engineering feat had never been accomplished.
The weight of this massive dome is supported by 8 stone piers.
In the early 20th-century, city officials concerned about the integrity of these hollow piers and perceived imminent danger of collapse recommended the piers be replaced. To strengthen the structural integrity of the pillars the clergy commissioned that each of the hollow columns be filled with liquid concrete. In 1941, during WWII, a direct hit on St. Paul’s destroyed the vaulted roof over the crypt and punched a hole through the cathedral floor. Ironically, had the piers not been reinforced the triple-dome of St. Paul’s would have collapsed.
We all have hollow pillars.
They are that which we erroneously rely on to support our self-esteem. They are the titles we seek: father, wife, accountant, volunteer. They are the power we pursue: financial, intellectual, influential. They are the image we project: successful, athletic, attractive. Life has a way of seducing us into expending enormous amounts of energy erecting one pillar after another with the promise that with our self-constructed piers we will finally feel…whole. And so, we labor under a false façade, clinging to one pillar or another for stability only to find momentary footing. In our longing to be loved, valued, accepted, welcomed, we toil hoping that what we do, or what we have, will once and for all validate who we are.
When we depend upon hollow pillars to bear the weight of our self-worth, they will sustain us for a while, eventually however, our self-esteem can become so frail that we ourselves begin to feel vacant. Somewhere along the way life twisted the message. We came to believe our value had everything to do with what we brought to the table, rather than our presence at the table. We bound our worth to our pursuits and have been left wanting.
Having spent a lifetime “doing” to purportedly earn my place at the table, I can attest to the exhaustive and unfulfilling cycle which keeps one perpetually offering more while never feeling enough.
What if our worth comes not from that which we pursue but from who we already are?
What if finding wholeness is not about stretching outward but looking inward?
Within each of us is a heart uniquely cast with distinctive traits, personality, interests, abilities, and purpose. Interwoven within these inherent characteristics are the experiences we’ve obtained, the knowledge we’ve acquired, and the insight we’ve gleaned. These combined attributes make up an entirely rare and irreplaceable individual. You. Me. Us. To be absolutely clear, who we are is not the pristine, unblemished version of ourselves; that person doesn’t exist. We’re talking reality, my friends! Us, in all our glorious brokenness, mess, flaws, and imperfections.
Ironically, one of the greatest obstacles to finding rest in who we are is ourselves. Having bought into the propaganda that our good is lovable but not our bad or our ugly, we hide and cover the undesirable parts of our heart through performance, perpetuating the cycle. We need to remember that our insight comes from having learned hard lessons. Our grace for others from having first experienced it ourselves. Our knowledge on how to stand firm, from having fallen flat on our face. Everything that makes us perceptive, relevant, and relatable is not where we have remained flawless but where we have broken.
When we learn to rest in who we are we can retire from who the world tells us we should be. Contentment with ourselves empowers us to reorder and reprioritize all that we dedicate ourselves too. Our heart becomes the filter through which we sift our motivations. Our pursuits – PTA volunteer, parent, athlete, educator – are offered from that which we long to give, not from a response we hope to receive. From that vantage point, filled with the knowledge of who we are, we too can weather the external forces which seek to besiege us.
Photo by Aditya Siva on Unsplash