Think about it. When do you feel the most stress at work? According to author Tony Schwartz in a recent post on Harvard Business Review, we feel the most stress when our value is threatened.

Across more than 200 studies of the effects of stress, researchers have found that the highest rises in cortisol levels — meaning the most pernicious “fight or flight” response — are prompted by “threats to one’s social acceptance, esteem and status”.

When someone puts us down or criticizes us, we not only get upset and feel under- appreciated, but very often we move into a defensive state of mind.

To feel valued (and valuable) is almost as compelling a need as food. The more our value feels at risk, the more preoccupied we become with defending and restoring it, and the less value we’re capable of creating in the world.

Two things struck me as significant in this statement. First, are we so disconnected to our value that someone elses criticism can throw us off guard and upset us? And as a result of this disconnect, how is it possible that we become so focused on defending our value that we can actually lose our value in the process?

First let me address the disconnection. Our lives are so crazy busy these days, it’s all we can do to keep up with our responsibilities at home and at work. Everyday we are running at full speed and focusing on completing our to-do list. How often do we take the time to identify our strengths and establish a lasting connection to our value? Without a strong connection to our value, we are trying to navigate a boat through strong currents without a rudder.

Tony Schwartz suggests, “Our challenge is always to reconnect to our own core value — even when someone else’s criticism cuts deep. What that requires, first and foremost, is compassion for ourselves.”

I think we need to take this one step further and intentionally make the connection to our core value. Take the time to identify what makes you unique; your strengths. Make a note each day of your accomplishments and successes in a journal and think about what these achievements say about you. This is your value proposition. No one can take this away from you. It is the foundation of how you promote yourself at work. This is your rudder.

With this connection to your value, no one will be able to set you so off course that your only new course is to defend yourself. Stay focused on your value and even if you are temporarily upset when someone puts you down, you will be able to quickly get back on track.

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