Many of us humans live a life of constant comparison. Sometimes it is beneath our conscious awareness, and other times it’s painfully obvious. We judge our self-worth, success, intelligence, and attractiveness by comparing ourselves to others. This tendency explains why there is a whole website dedicated to photos of socially unacceptable Walmart shoppers- we feel better about ourselves in comparison to them.
Unless you plan to forever surround yourself with people who have less desirable qualities than you, self-worth derived through comparison will never elevate you. This is a self-defeating way to live, one that will leave you adrift with a sense of never meeting the mark, never being good enough.
What is the alternative to comparison?
Instead of surrounding yourself with others that make you look good, or chasing things that temporarily boost your self-esteem, measure your self-worth by who you are at your core. Once you identify your values you immediately have a map to help you navigate life; you can weigh, compare, and make judgments that are based upon your own criteria, not others.
Living life without having a clear set of values, is like working on an assignment for which you were given no grading rubric. The only way to judge the worth, success, or effort of the assignment is to compare it to what others have produced. If you are living a life where you judge your worth by comparing yourself to others, or if you just don’t feel guided by an inner map, you need a personal manifesto.
What is a personal manifesto?
A personal manifesto is a written statement describing the values and principles that guide your life. It is a hard copy of who you aspire to be, something that you can keep at hand for those times that you feel adrift in a sea of comparison or feel pulled by the strings of conflicting interests. Once you have one, it will become obvious how much you needed it.
When you know who you want to be, there is only one you. You bring that same you wherever you are, regardless of the circumstance. You don’t leave parts of yourself behind to suit the occasion. You don’t have a ‘work you,’ a ‘party you,’ and a ‘family you.’ You are YOU all the time.
With this map of self, you will know when you hit the mark and when you are off. A personal manifesto is like a compass that guides you back to the course you set. Checking in with it daily can make little choices and issues much easier to navigate. It can keep you from getting hopelessly lost.
Here is how to create it
First, be aware that this is not a forever binding document. As you grow as a human, your manifesto may transform along with you, so revisiting and tweaking it yearly is a good practice.
1) Start with a list of core values.
Without core values, you have no firm ground to stand upon. They are the framework of who you are, and they are seriously underrated. Three to five is all you need- the fewer, the better. It is really helpful to start with a list like this one from Brene Brown and narrow it down from there. Even better, you can use this super handy site to help narrow things for you.
2) Using your list of values, look for inspirational quotes that help you to connect emotionally with your chosen values.
One of my values is curiosity, so I would google “quotes about curiosity.” You can even just search for the meaning of the word and read what others have to say about it. Here is an example of all the great quotes I found on curiosity. Just start collecting anything that resonates, and keep a page of notes for each value.
3) Use your collection of inspirational quotes to write a few concise and declarative statements for each value.
Going back to my curiosity example, I might say something as short as “ I lead with curiosity” or “I choose curiosity over judgment.” Use the first-person and present tense. For example, say “I lead with curiosity” vs “leads with curiosity” or “I will lead with curiosity.” Write as if you are writing about a person you know who already lives by these values.
4) Make it tangible and visually appealing.
Take your statements, and the value words themselves, and create a one-page document that you can refer to regularly. Depending on how much you value aesthetics, you can get creative here! There are many great examples online of beautiful personal manifestos. Here is a link to a tutorial on using Canva to design one. You can also bust out the markers and get artsy.
Here are some tips; but there are no rules to this
Focus on guiding truths, not grand affirmations, which can feel insincere. Writing “I lead with curiosity” is concrete and has an action involved whereas saying something like “I am a being full of curiosity” might feel inspiring to you, but it doesn’t have the powerful purpose of the first statement.
Include action-outcome statements. It can be more powerful to say something like “I fuel my growth with curiosity, instead of “I will stay curious.”
Keep it short enough that it can easily fit on one page. Ten statements might be a good place to start. You can always keep tweaking this, and combining statements that have similar meanings until you have a really concise list that is meaningful to you.
Put it to good use
Once you have this powerful and pleasant-looking one-page personal manifesto, post it in a place you will see it daily. You might also want to take a photo of it to save on your phone or computer so you can take it with you.
I think you might be surprised how powerful the processes of creating this manifesto will be in your life. Reflecting on this process has reminded me what a big impact just identifying my values (Step 1) has had on me.
For example, one of my core values is freedom. When it comes to making parenting choices, I often lead with this value in unexpected ways. Since I also value curiosity, I remind myself that to be in alignment with my values, I need to allow my children the freedom to lead with their curiosity, even when it causes me discomfort or fear. My own discomfort should not take me away from leading with my values.
When judgments about others’ actions or lifestyles creep in, I can bring my values into focus and get curious about what might have led them to this point in their lives. Valuing curiosity has given me this space of “huh- I wonder” that I did not so easily move into before.
Creating a personal manifesto creates integrity
To have integrity means that a person is self-aware, accountable, responsible, and truthful and that their actions are consistent.
The author and habits expert, James Clear, recommends conducting a yearly Integrity Report, which gets you thinking about how you are living out your values in real life. See his suggestions and his own Integrity Report, here.
Integrity means you are YOU all of the time. A thoughtfully created personal manifesto will be there to remind you of who that person is. It is a compass back to your authentic self.
A personal manifesto holds you accountable to the person you want to be, while also freeing you from others’ expectations of who you should become.
Thanks for reading,
Aimee O’Neil LLMSW