how to define self worth

How to Define Self Worth

This post comes from my cousin, Dr. Yashna Paul. She grew up in India, worked her butt off, and then landed in Germany for her Ph.D. After graduating last year, she got married and is currently living and working near Frankfurt with her husband. When it comes to the definition of self worth, she’s been through a few.

Leaving home to live far away for any reason, is difficult. Leaving home to to go another country where you don’t know the language and don’t know anyone at all? Even harder. There’s one thing about Indian culture that I don’t like: oftentimes criticism is a method used to motivate kids. My parents did it all the time when I was younger. Growing up here though, I saw my friends’ parents do things differently , so then I would get mad and pushback on my parents.

My cousin, though, grew up in a country surrounded by that criticism, from parents, teachers, professors, and society in general. As you can imagine, it can take a toll on your self worth. It can fill you with self doubt and feeling like an imposter, and it can make it extremely difficult to believe in yourself.

Yashna is someone who beat back. Her own personal agenda was no match for those around her. She’s a testament to what happens when you go after your dreams, focus on your goals, and don’t care what people think.

Here’s how she defines self worth. I think given her journey, she’s learned a few things along the way and her point of view is worth taking a look at.

Before we get into her definition, here is the standard definition of self worth:

“aka self-esteem, which is confidence in one’s own worth or abilities; self-respect”

Without further ado…


It’s interesting that self worth is defined in part by a “confidence in one’s abilities”“. That makes it seem like you have to have some kind of talent, or be an expert, in order to be worth anything.

But that’s not true.

Our Self Worth Is Inherent

Women, men, children, have inherent worth, as human beings. The work that each of us does daily for our own betterment, that’s a step towards higher self worth, because we are engaging in self care, and we are making ourselves a priority.

So when people ask me how did you increase, or attain, your self worth?

I didn’t. My self worth was already there. I just needed to recognize it.

You are already working on yourself every day. The fact that what you are today is not what you were a year or even six months ago answers it all. Maybe you just added having green tea to your routine in the last 3 months. That’s an achievement. Maybe you started cleansing your face more often than before. Wow!! Now that’s a kind of lifestyle change. Maybe you decided to walk instead of taking the bus in the last 4 out of 5 times you went to buy groceries. You bet!! That was some cardio. 

You Don’t Need A String Of Accomplishments

Many people think, and operate on the premise, that key life moments define our self worth. However, do not let an educational degree, finishing a book, or joining a gym make you realize you are working on yourself and hence adding to your self-worth. I feel self-worth is somehow related to self-dependence and the realization that we as girls have a habit to be super hard on ourselves. Thanks partly to the patriarchal society that has set the standards too high and different for women achievers.

You need to know you are an achiever each day. The idea that you want to improve upon what you already are, is self-worth. It is less of what you do and a bit more of what you think. This is enough.

It is a mistake to let people and milestones in life (yours or someone else’s) define your own self-worth.

Lack of Accomplishment Doesn’t Define You

It is completely all right if a project does not work out, if you miss that promotion, or if you don’t have a boyfriend but your best friend does.

These apparent ‘steps of success’ or attributes of a ‘complete life’ do not define you. You can have all of those and still struggle to respect yourself or see your achievements, as these are momentary.

It is your character and struggle that hone your personality. Self-worth is embedded in your conscience. Respect who you are and fully accept every part of your tiniest efforts of making yourself feel or do better as enough. Respect your abilities and that you had the heart to persevere all along and are willing to do it in the future. 

Cultivate Unconditional Self Worth

If your self worth is tied in with accomplishments, with what people think, or how much exposure you get on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and the like, then just as you earn it, it can be suddenly taken away as well.

Instead, as mentioned before, work on your personality, your kindness, tolerance and generosity. Work on your integrity and work ethic.

Recognize All That You Do

Sandy Hale said “Self worth is so vital to your happiness. If you don’t feel good about you, it’s hard to feel good about anything else.” The way to embrace people, things and moments, is to first cherish yourself fully, wholeheartedly, and with utmost love.

Let’s rejoice in ourselves every day. In an ever-demanding work and society, the ‘act’ of showing up every morning is enough self-worth. Let’s wake up, dance the day out, and cherish its nuances with a smile. 


Final Thoughts

As you can see, her experiences are very similar to people who are high-achieving individuals. We are always working for the next goal, in effect chasing a definition of self worth. We are waiting to be experts, to be popular, to get so many followers before we recognize ourselves.

This chase is what fuels anxiety, depression, and yes lack of self-worth. Life, and a life worth living, is not on the other side of our accomplishments. Life is now, and your efforts and hard work now count. Recognize it.

That whole saying “stop and smell the roses”?…stop and recognize how much you’ve changed, all the new things you’ve done in life, and the lessons you’ve learned. Recognize how far you’ve come.

Recognize that you’re human and imperfect. Accept it.

Recognize and stand up for yourself; be heard. You don’t need to be highly accomplished to matter. Your voice counts no matter what level of society or education you have. Your self worth, as Yashna says, is inherent.

Recognize you.