Illustration by Katie Ferreol.

Detaching Worth from Work: Loving Yourself Beyond Your Achievements

As long as I can remember, I have been constantly working towards making others proud of me. Beyond the smiles and messages of praise from peers and family members, what I did not expect was losing myself in the process.

Apr 10, 2021

All my life, I felt the need to prove my worth to others.
As the youngest member of a high-achieving family, the demand for success was engraved into my childhood. I would put off giving my parents a bad report card or telling them of mistakes in school, knowing that a lecture of disappointment and a comparison to my siblings were sure to follow.
I worked hard to make my parents proud, knowing that they expect the same high level of achievement from me as from my sisters and brother. When I do receive praise, I take it, I savor it. After a while, I began to crave it — depend on it.
My desire for approval is present in my most prominent memories. When I was 10, I spent extra hours ensuring I knew every possible detail for a quiz. When I was 13, I put on my best smile to ensure a scholarship at my high school. When I was 17, I endured sleepless nights to excel in my AP exams. Every time I did well, I needed to do better and more importantly, I needed to hear people were proud of me.
Closing my second year at university, I have spent numerous hours applying to internships that will broaden my experience to future employers. I have continuously emailed alumni and heads in my department about the qualifications I need for a guaranteed job offer after graduation.
Soon, the hard work paid off. I began seeing results on my resume, on my Albert transcript and in my message inbox. Yet, even with the shining plaques of all my success, I felt the emptiest I have ever been.
I let my achievements define who I was: that picture-perfect daughter I sought to be.
This led me to a toxic relationship not only with work culture, but also with myself. I began to pursue opportunities for the sake of hitting my next goal instead of my own eagerness for the role. I enjoyed the jobs I was hired to do: they helped boost my confidence and broaden my skills. However, I cannot say that I pursued them fully out of desire. Due to this, I sacrificed my physical and emotional wellbeing to fulfill my duties. I prioritized work over friends and sat holed up in my room for hours, believing constant work was the surefire way to success.
After a while, this caused me to hit my limits. I struggled to complete important responsibilities due to a lack of motivation. I lashed out at those who offered feedback on my creative work. I could not take a hint of criticism without breaking down, thinking I have let down those who trusted me. I trashed cold email drafts to companies, unable to send them in fear of rejection. I was aware of my behavior, yet I did not do anything to stop it. It got so bad to the point where I paused my activities at a startup I was interning for. This shattered me: my colleagues were like family and they never allowed me to overwork myself. They valued what I could offer their team, and I felt like I had failed them. It took such a disheartening moment for me to open my eyes — who was I truly doing these things for?
Who was I beyond my achievements?
Now in my last year as a teenager, I wonder about all the things I have done for myself. I cannot recall a time when I drew something that was not for a job or read something that was not for a class. I still have not allowed myself to make dumb decisions and accept their repercussions. I still have not lived my life freely. Working towards my next goal was all I knew — how could I just stop?
We tend to think of life as a race. We are conditioned by unrealistic standards. In turn, we prioritize our rank and status over the state of our happiness. Slowly, I am starting to prioritize myself again: whether it’s stocking up on novels from the bookstore, taking a quiet walk around the highline or even dancing around my room with headphones on full volume, I am learning the importance of working at my own pace and doing things for myself.
Yes, succeeding is important, but it is not worth sacrificing your identity for.
Katie Ferreol is Staff Illustrator. Email her at
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