Wednesday, December 29, 2021

A Writer's Self Worth - How Writers Can Overcome Performance Based Value (Part 2)

by Zena Dell Lowe @ZenaDellLowe

It’s that time of the year when Christians celebrate the wonderful birth of our Savior, who came to deliver us from the just punishment of our sins. While I cannot compete with the magnitude of this event, I, too, come bearing glad tidings of great joy. Namely, that if you’re an artist who suffers from recurring cycles of crippling self-doubt and existential crisis, behold, I say unto you, there is relief to be found. This post is for anyone who wants to put a stop to these never-ending spirals of despair—or at least find a better way of dealing with them.

Four Key Principles to Help Us Deal More Effectively with this Debilitating Phenomenon 

1. Reframe your definition of “success.” 
For me, successful people are those who have achieved something important in their area of expertise as a result of some kind of praiseworthy performance. To reframe the definition doesn’t mean that we lower our standards or accept mediocrity when we should be striving for excellence. Given the quality of God’s own workmanship (all of creation, no less), God sets a rather high standard for art. Thus, we should always do our very best according to the gifts we’ve been given. However, we tend to assume that success is something that takes place primarily amidst a profession, but what if God looks to a different area to gauge our successes or failures? 

2. Switch from a career-focused view of success to a health-focused perspective.
The very first thing I do when evaluating my life is look at how healthy I am in terms of my emotional, spiritual and relational health. Are you someone who practices good communication skills and appropriate recovery techniques? Do you know how to be authentic and live in your own skin? Some of these terms might sound wonky and froo-froo, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable. Some useful knowledge has come out of the self-love psychology movement. Use the tools available to help you cultivate healthy habits that can enable you to become the best version of yourself. Instead of focusing on work, strive for personal health as the criteria for measuring your success, and even your work productivity will improve.

3. At the end of each day, examine yourself and determine your level of inner peace.
Becoming a healthy person is not something that just happens. It’s something you have to invest in, and works best when we follow some kind of program that utilizes tried and true principles as a guide. But this presupposes that we’re willing to learn how to apply these principles, and then to openly and honestly evaluate ourselves each day, admitting any failures and adjusting our behavior as needed. Program steps may vary, but an end of the day inventory generally includes asking yourself questions such as: 

Do I have peace in all things? 
Or is there business left undone? 
Have I caused harm to anyone? 
Do I need to make amends? 

If you’ve wronged someone, own it. It’s important to keep short accounts. However, you’re not obligated to stay in relationship with those who are abusive, toxic, or unrepentant of their own sin—not because you don’t love them, but because it isn’t good for you. The goal of your life must be healthiness. At the end of that day, if you were as spiritually, emotionally, and relationally healthy as you could be, your reward will be peace that surpasses all understanding, regardless of any other suffering you might be experiencing. Not that you’ll be perfect, but you’ll no longer be a slave to perfection. You’ll be able to celebrate even small improvements as you do your best to live up to your program, and you’ll base your successes or failures on whether or not you have a clear conscious before God. 

4. Since we can’t get rid of performance-based value altogether, check your motives. 
In truth, we cannot escape the temptation of looking at our accomplishments as proof of our value. But we can separate healthy performance-based habits from unhealthy ones by asking, “Who’s the source of my approval? Where am I looking for that assurance that I'm okay?” 

When I’m performing for the approval of others, I want them to see my good deeds and approve of them so they’ll think I’m a good person. But when I'm looking at them to tell me that my good deeds are worthy, I’m in the wrong kind of performance-based valuation. I’ve just entered a work-oriented contract, and I'm going to fail. I’m going to run myself ragged trying to prove my value to others, but I’ll never be able to work hard enough to please everyone. This is a people pleaser trap. Those who try to please others to get approval are doomed. 

A healthier kind of performance-based criteria includes feeling good about how you’ve stewarded your time, resources and talents in order to appropriately fulfill your God-given calling, but the key is to work from a place of joy, from the overflow of your heart. The Bible says, "Whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability as unto the Lord." But even here, we must do things because it brings us joy to do them, not so others will think we matter. And not to prove our worth to God, either, because we can't earn His love or make Him love us anymore than He already does. See, when it's about other people seeing it, including God, then it becomes a performance. It becomes hoops to jump through to show others our worth and value. 

If, when you receive criticism over your performance, it absolutely devastates you, and you wish the world would swallow you whole, then you’re looking outwards for assurance. Whereas, if, when you hear negative criticism about your performance, you can hear that criticism and evaluate it, and either agree with it and correct it, without it taking a hit on your self-esteem, or hear it and reject it because you know it's not true, without it taking a hit on your self-esteem, then you are looking to the right place for an evaluation of how well you're performing. If you find yourself always trying to work to prove your worth to God, yourself or others, it may be that you need to do some trauma recovery work before you will be able to evaluate work in a healthy way. And I want this for you, because for the record, people are going to criticize your performance. I want you to be secure enough that it won’t shake you when they do.

It’s hard to escape the trap of looking to others for affirmation of our worth. These four techniques have helped me better evaluate how well I am doing and whether or not I'm okay. Because if I evaluate myself on the basis of other people's opinions, then yeah, I'm failing. But if I evaluate based on what I believe God has called me to do and my efforts to fulfill that calling, then it's okay. I’m okay. And I don't have to spiral into these depths of despair and have an existential crisis every time I start to feel like a failure. 

If you share this struggle, I hope this helps you, too. Let’s get beyond the existential funk of performance-based value so that we can actually get back to the business of creating, which should make for a very happy healthy New Year.


Don't Miss the Other Posts in the Series!

Zena has worked professionally in the entertainment industry for over 20 years as a writer, producer, director, actress, and story consultant. Zena also teaches advanced classes on writing all over the country. As a writer, Zena has won numerous awards for her work. She also has several feature film projects in development through her independent production company, Mission Ranch Films. In addition to her work as a filmmaker, Zena launched The Storyteller’s Mission with Zena Dell Lowe, a podcast designed to serve the whole artist, not just focus on craft. In 2021, Zena launched The Storyteller’s Mission Online Platform, where she offers advanced classes and other key services to writers. Zena loves story and loves to support storytellers. Her passion is to equip artists of all levels to achieve excellence at their craft, so that they will truly have everything they need to change the world for the better through story.

To find out more about Zena or her current courses and projects, check out her websites at WWW.MISSIONRANCHFILMS.COM and WWW.THESTORYTELLERSMISSION.COM


  1. Zena, what great insight! Do you live in my head???? Thanks so much for sharing, Blessings, E

  2. Thanks Zena for reminding us that we shouldn't let the criticism of others, or the perceived criticism, determine how we value our work. We should write for the audience of One. Wishing you a super happy/healthy new year.

  3. Thank you, Zena, for your excellent post. A wise mentor of mine--who is now in Heaven--once suggested to me a definition for success: "Success is fulfilling the purpose for which God placed you on this earth." I have made her suggestion my goal in life: to do the will of Him Who sent me to this earth (John 5: 30). The result has been deep peace in my inner man and great joy in the journey. May our Lord bless you to overflowing as you minister His life to others.