Are You Trying To Win The Worthiness Game?

Last week, I went to Standup for Passion — an event series founded by two entrepreneurs, Arnaud Collery and Serge Karim Ganem, that brings together fascinating people to talk about their passions in life. This latest one featured seven successful entrepreneur founders — CEOs who had built and sold businesses for millions, won awards and been recognized by major press — talking about their ups and downs.

One by one, each shared their personal variation on a theme: how having money, power, recognition — the external validation they had longed and worked toward for years — didn’t bring the fulfillment and satisfaction they thought it would. In fact, Guillaume Gauthereau, founder of Totsy, the second largest US flash sale website, told us that at the pinnacle of his high-profile success, the moment he was being recognized in Times Square for being Entrepreneur of the Year, was one of the unhappiest times in his life.

Which Game Are We Talking About

I often talk about “stepping up your game.” But guess what, there are two games. And you’ve already “won” one of them, the worthiness game: You are enough, right now, just as you are. In fact, you were born worthy and there’s nothing you can do to change that. Like the Zen teaching says: You are entitled to your space on the plant, just as you are. (h/t Roger Knisely)

The problem is when we confuse the worthiness game with the being-a-member-of-society game: The one where we have to constantly be proving that we’re upstanding citizens and following the rules — getting good grades, getting/staying married, making partner, losing weight, getting VC funding. It’s very conditional: stick to societal norms and everything’s cool (for now); screw up or fall off the beaten track in some way and get ready for a guilt-shame trip.

If you’re thinking, “But we can’t have a bunch of people sitting around feeling worthy and doing nothing all day,” keep in mind that worthiness isn’t entitlement — coming from a place of scarcity and looking to get as much as you can from someone else. And it doesn’t mean complacency, being satisfied with the status quo.

Worthiness, as shame researcher Brene Brown says in the subtitle of her book The Gifts of Imperfection, means that you let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. It means you can feel whole and complete and love yourself now, even as you’re striving to achieve and improve.

So go ahead, pursue wealth, status and recognition if you want to play that  game — but do it because you will inherently enjoy it the challenge of it, not because you think it’ll bring happiness or prove your worthiness.

p.s. Guillaume, by the way, now plays the game his own way: teaching mindfulness, tending bees and helping businesses grow through passion and purpose .

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