If you were going to install new flooring in your home, would you determine how much material to order by measuring the size of the room with a random stick? Probably not. Hopefully, you’d use a tape measure that would accurately help you calculate the dimensions. Yet, when it comes to measuring self-worth, many people use something just as unreliable as a random stick.
We all have some sort of measuring stick that we use to determine our value as a human being. When we feel like we’re measuring up, we feel good about ourselves. But, when we feel like we’ve fallen short, our self-esteem can plummet.
Despite the fact that our measuring stick has so much influence over how we feel about ourselves, most people aren’t even conscious of what they’re using to determine their self-worth. But they are conscious of the fluctuations they experience in how they feel about themselves.
There are many different ways people measure their worthiness, and some of them aren’t healthy. Here are five common – yet potentially hazardous – ways people measure their self-worth:
1. Who You’re Surrounded By
There are a few different ways that people depend on others to give them value. While one person may think her worth depends on how much praise she receives from others, someone else may only feel good about herself when she’s in a relationship.
At other times, individuals feel worthy by surrounding themselves with important people. Rubbing shoulders with rich celebrities or “movers and shakers,” fuels their self-importance. A busy social calendar and a lengthy list of personal contacts helps them feel valuable.
Making your self-worth dependent upon others, however, is like chasing a moving target. You can’t control other people and you can’t please everyone all the time. If you base your self-worth entirely upon how others perceive you, you’ll never be able to receive enough praise or positive reinforcement to feel good about yourself.
2. What You Do
A career helps many people feel valued. Some people are quick to say something like, “I’m the co-founder of XYZ company,” or “I’m a lawyer,” not because it’s what they do – but because it’s who they are. Their career reinforces to them that they’re “somebody.”
Basing your self-worth on your job title is a big risk. A health problem, economic downturn, or unexpected shift in the job market may interfere with your career and lead to a major identity crisis. Even a planned retirement could wreak havoc on your self-worth if your identity is tied to your job title. In the absence of a high profile career, you won’t be able to feel good about yourself if you’ve always measured your self-worth by what you do.
3. How Much Money You Have
We’ve all met people who measure their self-worth by the size of their bank accounts. Sometimes people feel like they just can’t acquire enough wealth to be “valuable enough.” In a desperate attempt to prove their worth, they create a façade of wealth by going deeply into debt in hopes a luxury car or beautiful home will help them feel good about themselves.
While it makes sense to place a monetary value on goods and services, it doesn’t make sense to use money to determine your value as a human being. The amount of money you earn or expensive possessions you own will never be enough to satisfy your need to feel worthy.
4. What You Achieve
Sometimes people want to be known solely for their accomplishments. That person who always brags about her latest business venture may only feel good about herself when she is talking about her accomplishments. Or that person who just can’t stop beating himself up about that time that he failed, might struggle to move on because that one incident completely crushed his self-worth .
While it’s normal for your accomplishments to make you feel good, basing your entire self-worth on your achievements is like building your house on an unsteady foundation. You’ll need to experience repeated success in order to feel good about yourself – and that’s hard to maintain over the long-haul.
5. How You Look
While some people measure their self-worth by the numbers on a scale, others determine their value based on their ability to attract attention with their appearance. The media certainly fuels the notion that “you’re only as good as you look.” Marketing strategies frequently target our insecurities about everything from ageing to weight gain.
If you were fortunate enough to be blessed with good looks, your beauty may serve as an advantage in life. But, a handsome face or a beautiful body won’t last forever. Wrinkles, a middle-age spread, gray hair, or a receding hairline can become catastrophic for anyone whose self-worth depends on their physical appearance.
Feeling Good About Who You Are
The way you choose to measure your worth as a person will serve as a major factor in the choices you make, the thoughts you have about life, and the way you feel about yourself. Know what measuring stick you’re using to determine your value and measure your self-worth based on the factors you can control – not the external events in your life.
When you know who you are – and you’re pleased with the person you’ve become – you’ll maintain a sense of peace throughout life’s inevitable ups and downs. Rather than experience major fluctuations in how you feel about yourself based on your latest success or most recent failure, you’ll believe in yourself regardless.
Measure your self-worth by who you are at your core. Doing so will help you focus on behaving according to your values, instead of chasing the things that will temporarily boost your self-esteem.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.