Worship is one of the most powerful forces that shape our lives, but have you ever stopped to think of how worship may be negatively affecting your life?
David Foster-Wallace once made an extremely important point on worship when he said the following:
“…in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship–be it Jesus Christ or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles–is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.”
Whatever else it is that you worship, it will more than likely leave you with the opposite of what you’re searching for. Worship money, and you’ll never have enough. Worship your intellect, and it will leave you feeling dim-witted and fraudulent. Even bodybuilders who worship their bodies will never be satisfied with how they look, no matter how protruded their muscles may be.
This unfortunately, is the truth of human dissatisfaction. While there’s nothing wrong these avenues of worship in a sense of good and bad, the problem with them is that they’re unconscious. Constant dissatisfaction with your current state is operating on your default settings, and it’s only up to you to decide whether or not you submit to them.
In my case, I’ve worshipped several of the unconscious religions just mentioned. When I was in high school, I worshipped my intellect, which led to countless challenges in my first two years of university. When you’re eighteen years old and get better marks in school than most people you know, it becomes pretty easy to worship your intellect. Getting in to every university I applied to was great in a lot of ways and a testament to my hard work but was detrimental in the short run, especially to my teenage ego.
Once I got to a university full of high achievers, many who worshipped the same thing as I did, I quickly became consumed by a ubiquitous mind loop of thinking I was lesser than the rest of my peers. If I hadn’t been obsessed with maintaining my reputation as being seen as smart, maybe my marks in my first two years would have been a lot better than the cocktail of Bs and Cs that left me feeling hopelessly below average. Instead of doing the work required, I spend hours upon hours in a state of procrastination feeling I “wasn’t smart enough” to be in the program, even if it was them who accepted me.
This, however, is not the worst of the things I’ve worshipped. If you worship acceptance, you’ll always be left wondering whether you’ve been accepted by others. If you’re the type of person who tries to get everyone you meet to like you, it will become a constant mental struggle that leaves you feeling as if you’ve been accepted by no one. This has been the case for the majority of my life; despite having a wide range of amazing friends, I’ve constantly felt conflict even when there was none because I needed to impress everyone I met in order for them to like me. A web of lies then followed about who I was in order to make it seem like I was “the most interesting person they’ve ever met”, and it nearly led me to lose hold of who I truly was. I lied, I cheated, I lied a little more, and even that began to feel unconscious.
Trying to get everyone to like you is never worth it and will be detrimental to your relationship with yourself. It took me twenty-two years to realize this, and I bet you know a few people who go through their entire lives on default settings like these. How can you make everyone in the world like you if you don’t first like and accept who you are?
Remember that you are always choosing, and you have the power to decide what has meaning in your life and what doesn’t. The meaning you give to what you choose to care about serve as your core values, but the problem with picking values is that many of us create flaws in our values by trying to pinpoint the value to a destination. Values differ from goals, but many of us miss the separation between the two. Values should have no destination but rather be a mission statement of what you care about and are even willing to suffer for. For example, “making everyone like me” is a pretty shitty value, whereas “honesty” or “being true to myself” are a lot more realistic and constructive, yet similar values. Another bad value would be trying to consume all of the knowledge you can in order to be seen as “smarter than everyone else”, instead of simply putting our effort into “curiosity”.
It wasn’t actually until I started travelling that I began to reflect on and reinvent my values (surprise, surprise!). Mark Manson made an interesting point on this in a recent article on values, that sums it up a lot better than I could:
“Here’s what people mean when they say they need to ‘find themselves’: they’re finding new values. Our identity — that is, the thing that we perceive and understand as the “self” — is the aggregation of everything we value. So when you run away to be alone somewhere, what you’re really doing is running away somewhere to re-evaluate your values.”
With this, I bid you good luck in re-evaluating your values if you so choose. Here are a few of the values I’ve been able to define as core to me that a) are a constant work in progress, b) I have the ability to control, and c) are realistic:
- Standing up for other people
- Being critical of my intentions
- Searching for potential, not position