Now here’s an interesting question – what are you worth?
The first issue to clear up is what do we mean by worth? Is it how much money you have, or what other people think of you, or is it what you think of yourself? Let’s look at each of these options …
- Material possessions as a measure of worth. Some people would describe their worth, or the worth of others, in terms of their financial resources. The amount of money in the bank or in investments, the size of their house or the fancy-ness of their car, the school that their children attend, and so on. An obvious question then arises as to whether Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, or Bill Gates is worth more than you are, because they are pretty likely to have more money than you. I personally think a person’s worth is more intrinsic than their possessions, more related to who they are than what they have. This is because I see that many people who have more possessions or higher income than I do are less happy than I am. Maybe I have a warped perception but I think that being satisfied with what you have is ‘worth’ quite a lot.
- The opinions of others as a measure of worth. If what other people think of you is related to your character and actions, this might be a reasonable indicator of your worth. Unfortunately, you only have to spend a few minutes interacting on social media to realise that many people have strong opinions based on nothing more than smoke and mirrors, and their opinion of you is essentially meaningless, because they don’t know you. In my admittedly strange upbringing, I came to realise that most people’s opinion of other people is deeply flawed, by which I mean that other people’s opinion of me was the antithesis of who I saw myself to be. This led me to reject other people’s opinions as mere noise in my search for self-worth and purpose in life. That may not apply to a lot of other people out there who value social interaction more than I do and derive a lot of their sense of self from that. However, I can’t help but wonder how safe it is to entrust your worth to others.
- Your opinion of yourself as a measure of worth. On the surface, this appears to be the pinnacle of worth-telling. You reflect on your behaviour and actions in various condiitons and compare them with what you believe about yourself. If they match, you’re worth a lot. If they don’t, you are a waste of space. The obvious danger with this is that if you can’t see yourself clearly and objectively, you will possibly spiral out of control. Either you become arrogant and narcissistic, or you get depressed and give up on yourself. Neither are helpful.
In answering the original question, I propose that a combined approach is needed to avoid the pitfalls. You need to meet the basic needs for food, water and shelter (and mobile access) for yourself and those you are responsible for, and material resources do help you to achieve that. Providing for yourself and your loved ones is quite good for your feeling of self-worth. The honest opinions of others who are qualified to have an opinion of you are valuable indicators of how much you are worth in their eyes. In my life, when someone who doesn’t know me flames me on social media, that has minimal impact compared to my best friend telling me that he thinks I handled a situation poorly. If you use the opinions of others as a measure of your worth, at least make sure they are people that you trust. Finally, it doesn’t matter what your bank balance says or what others think of you if you don’t see yourself as being worthwhile. So you must include an element of self-worth in your accounting of what you are worth. This can be a challenge at times, especially when you’re not doing too well and your loved ones think you are worth more than you think you are.
To finish up this ramble, I’d like to make two points:
- Using my life as an example, not because it’s worth more than others but because it’s the only one I can speak about with any authority, I can say that the only real measure of worth for me is my own evaluation of it. I realise that this potentially puts me at high risk for depression and feelings of disconnection from others if it all goes pear-shaped. However, so far so good. I can and do listen to the opinions of others, and often take on board useful feedback even when it’s painful. I appreciate my income and career, and feel proud of what I have achieved with my work and my family. But none of this matters much to me if I don’t feel in myself that I am worth it. Empty praise galls me, and I’d rather honest criticism any day. My self-worth is built mostly on continually striving to improve myself as a husband, father, community member, volunteer, employee, manager, leader, mentor, friend and so on.
- Why did I go down this particular rabbit hole today, given the millions of topics I could have rambled and ranted about? It comes down to my internal curiosity about how I feel at work. I am currently in a management job I did not want, doing work I thought I wouldn’t enjoy, because my employer asked for my help in an area of need. To my surprise, I find myself actually enjoying it, even though I am more tired than I have ever been, and feel under immense pressure to care for my team. A very strong thread in my sense of self, and therefore my feeling of self-worth, has always been a determination to do any job to the best of my ability. My very first job at 16 was picking up rocks by hand in a paddock using a tractor and trailer to move them to the edges. It looked like an awful job that no-one else wanted, but I loved it and gained a lot of satisfaction in making the paddock clean and safe for cropping. That same thread is now woven through my current job, except now the stakes are a lot higher as I am responsible for a whole team of people. I can’t afford to over-value my worth, but I owe it to my team not to under-value it either. At the end of all this, I come to the realisation that I need to use the opinions of others to ensure that I have the balance right. For a person like me who is entirely comfortable being an intrrovert, that is a significant challenge. Hence the ramble, and thanks for reading it.