It's not something I'm proud to admit, but I used to be a complete tanaholic. I was a triple threat of a sun worshipping disaster: I love nothing more than being outside, I tan quickly and I adored the compliments people gave me about my bronzed skin.
In the interest of full disclosure, the first summer I had a 40-hour per week internship and was stuck inside during prime tanning hours, I'd run to my car on my lunch break, throw on my swimsuit and sneak to a nearby pond. I'd recline on my towel in the grass, next to the locals eating sandwiches on a bench before racing back to my car and changing into my work clothes. In the middle of the city - just blocks from my place of employment.
It was bad.
I remember thinking: If I'm not tan in the summer, I'm basically not me in the summer. I have to be tan when I go home to Indiana for weddings.
In retrospect, I see now what I didn't see then: I was getting worth from those compliments about my bronzed skin. I had been praised for being tan for so many years that it had become part of what I thought made me, me.
It was a source of self-worth.
And that can be the trouble with the things for which we receive abundant praise. They start as compliments, which are flattering remarks from others. But, after hearing them over and over, they become complements, which are things that make a group complete. The compliments begin to complete us.
They become part of who we are.
Over time, you begin to measure your own self-worth based on these things. It may be that you're funny, smart, good at your job or super efficient that you're proud of. And it's OK to be proud of our achievements. But, when we begin to place so much value on our accomplishments, we begin to believe they give us value.
As we age, we may not be able to access these things - perhaps you lose your job or, like me, realize you don't want to be super tan anymore. Suddenly, the thing that once gave us worth is gone, and we're left with an imaginary measuring stick to which we can no longer stack up.
Throughout my 20s, I've spent quite a bit of time and energy on figuring out where my worth comes from. I've wrestled with what makes me who I am versus what are simply facts about me. Yes, I may have skin that naturally tans, but it doesn't make me more or less valuable. Yes, I can rock a to do list like it's nobody's business, but it doesn't give me my worth.
My weight, accomplishments, abilities, relationships and possessions don't make me who I am. They are just things. My worth is not external or temporary.
It breaks my heart when I see people carrying their worth around their necks like a weight. It's the workout they have to complete in order to feel worthy, the house they have to clean to feel like they're enough and the relationship they have to find to feel whole. It pains me so because I used to be that person. I used to earn my worth every day with tasks and to do lists, exercise and so many fleeting items.
I've come to learn that the more we begin to believe our worth is innate, and not something to be earned, the more we find freedom to be who we really are. The more we can become whole, full versions of ourselves and begin to believe that we are more than enough.