Paradigm of Performance: A Value system with No Value

By: Aaron Welch, LMHC, NCC, CSOTS

Where do you find value? How do you know that you’re important in this world? What makes you feel special? Do you even feel valuable?

These are important…no, essential questions that we must ask ourselves because the answers to these questions will determine how much impact we will make on our world. It’s true…the answers to these questions directly tie into our sense of contentment, joy, motivation, and relationships. Where do you seek value in this life?
For many, and I DO mean many, the answer is that they seek their value in their performance. How much are they DOING? How good is their behavior? How many mistakes are they making? Are they achieving excellence or simply mediocrity? How do others view their performance level? Are they scoring an A or and F on the report card of their lives…maybe a C……oops…..today it’s a D, no... a B….no, an A……oh, I don’t know. Whether it is in the secular world or in the realm of Christianity, much of the focus is on behavior. So many people only feel valuable IF they are doing or achieving or performing ENOUGH.
Yet, those that work the hardest to perform often feel the least amount of value. Ironic? Maybe, but true. If that’s the case then a performance-based value system is a system that really has no value at all, wouldn’t you say? I mean, if this is the road you are on and you are one of the hardest workers on that road, striving to perform constantly; to never make a mistake, never fail, always be “on,” perform daily at a level that garners praise from your peers and family…if THAT is where you find your value, then you are on the road to despair. I’m telling you, you’re doomed for failure. There will come a day, if it hasn’t come already, where you will feel depressed, discouraged, hopeless, and WORN OUT.
Doesn’t this sound strangely familiar to those of us who grew up in the church? Hmmm…….it sounds an awful lot like reading the Old Testament, doesn’t it? You know, when the Law System of salvation was in effect. The Law basically said: “obey the rules and you will live…break the rules and you are doomed.” That’s all about performance, isn’t it? If you live by the commandments, keeping all the rules that God has set up through Moses, then you will be fine. But break even ONE of them, and you have failed and are in deep trouble. Fair enough, right?
So…..as Dr. Phil might say…..how did that work out for them?
Disastrous. The Law paradigm for salvation and feeling value was certainly fair but, because we are flawed human beings, it was a failure from the start. There was simply nobody who could perfectly obey that system. NOBODY could perform. Many in the Old Testament didn’t even try. We read chapter after chapter of kings who didn’t even try to follow God; who turned to other gods who required less performance and offered a lot more immediate gratification. Then….there were those who strived to perform. Men like King David, who really lived for God but fell short just like everyone else. If you read the Psalms you can see how often David confesses how bad he feels about falling short of the Lord’s standards.
The Law system just did not work because nobody could live up to it and, therefore, it was a system of slavery and death. The Apostle Paul speaks about this in the book of Romans. It was simply impossible for anyone to find value through the Law system.
Nothing has changed.
If you are trying to find value in the paradigm of performance, you are on the road to futility, my friend. Let me outline some of the reasons one cannot find real value in a performance-driven model:

• It is usually grounded in unhealthy relationships: Most people who seek their value through their performance do so because of being in relationship with someone who withheld their approval until that person earned it through performance. This is often something we learn in childhood because, many times, parents put a high price tag on their children’s performance. The problem is when kids begin to attach this to their value to the parent. In other words, they think, if I don’t clean my room correctly or mow the lawn perfectly, I will never gain approval from my dad or mom. It’s understandable to expect our kids to do things the right way or to try their best but their VALUE (or sense of approval) should NEVER be wrapped up in that alone.
• Finding value through performance is unrealistic/unachievable: C’mon……in your heads you KNOW this is true: NOBODY can ever perform all the time. None of us can. If you believe you are able to do that you are seriously delusional. And because nobody can perform at a high level 100% of the time people who look for value there will never fully find it; they will discover that their value comes only in fleeting moments that they cannot seem to duplicate often enough. What about when you’re sick? Or when we get older and can’t perform at the same level? What if you just have an “off” day? Does that make us lose value? In the performance paradigm it does and it is doomed for failure.
• The Performance Paradigm is a constant roller-coaster ride: One of the worst parts of following this model is the polarized results it brings to a person’s life. When we look to performance for our value, then our view of self vacillates between arrogance and self-loathing. How can there be any other real alternatives? When we are performing well and people are singing our praises and we feel valuable, how can it NOT become prideful for us? I mean, if our value is based on what WE do, then when we succeed it is natural to feel a little cocky. But what about when we don’t perform? Then we beat ourselves up and feel worthless. We tend to merciless in our self-talk, wondering internally how we could have been so stupid or clumsy or incompetent. Yet, this kind of roller-coaster view of self can change from week-to-week, day-to-day, hour-to-hour. It can change based on our view of our own performance or it can change based on the feedback of others about our performance. We can NEVER find lasting value through performance because our performance fluxuates so much and, consequently, so does our value.
• IT IS NEVER ENOUGH! This is why the Law system is often described by the writers of scriptures as a system of slavery. Finding value in performance shackles us to the behaviors where we seek value, or a mood boost, or a little escape, or to illicit the praise of others. When we base our value on performance we must ask ourselves the question, “When have I performed enough?” The answer is NEVER. When we have to constantly perform to find our sense of value then we jump on the hamster wheel from hell. We become a slave to our performance; to our behavior…and we must repeat those behaviors over and over and over and over and over…….or risk feeling worthless. The pressure is so great to perform and the chances of failure, at some point, are 100% and so this value system actually leads us to addictive behavior: whether addicted to sin or to GOOD behavior for the wrong reasons. Performance-driven value can never be achieved and so the cycle never ends.
The truth is that we can only find lasting, real value by having a right view and a right relationship with Christ. Let me illustrate:

• Find your value in knowing your Maker: Just like the name of an artist drives up the value of a painting, so knowing that God made us just the way He wanted us drives up our value…and it’s NOT based on anything we do or don’t do. Our value is set in stone because of God taking the initiative to create us. I may not like the works of Monet, but the artwork is valuable because Monet is considered a master. Not everyone make like me, find me attractive, funny or even talented. But that doesn’t really matter because I am valuable due to the fact that the Master fashioned me just the way He wanted. HE believes I have value and I trust He is right.
• Lasting value comes from a right relationship with Christ: When we realize we cannot possibly perform up to God’s standards and submit, in faith, to a relationship where we trust Jesus for our salvation and our value, everything changes. Then, when we do not perform or we perform badly (sin) it never affects how valuable we are in the eyes of God. We are covered in Christ, who IS perfect in His performance. God views us through the filter of Jesus and that means our value never wavers because Christ never wavered. We are covered by HIS performance and His blood which paid our debt. Our performance may ever fluctuate but our value never does, thanks to HIM…..not our efforts.
• We are free to perform BECAUSE we have value: When we realize that nothing we do or don’t do affects our value before God, it removes so much pressure from us…..it breaks the chains of performance-based value. This means that all the energy we used in our fruitless attempts to earn value can now go towards drawing near to God and obeying Him without the fear of failure. It is unbelievably freeing to “perform” because we can…not because we have to or we will be worthless.


I write this because I would say most of the clients who come to see me are caught up in the idea that they must perform to be worth anything. As Christians, nothing could be further from the truth. When we realize that our value isn’t up to us, it opens the door to a value system that REALLY works: The grace of God. Amen…and amen.

Aaron Welch is a licensed mental health counselor, nationally certified counselor and certified sex offender treatment specialist. He strives to fight for the hearts of his clients and empower them to build a legacy that impacts the world. He is part of a team of experts at “The Lifeworks Group, Inc”. For more information about Aaron or Lifeworks, please visit www.lifeworksgroup.org or www.legacycounselingservices.org

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