I remember right after college graduation the first paycheck I received from my new job. I was excited, thrilled and walked home feeling on top of the world. Yet after my first few months of paying rent, utilities, and more, it soon became painfully clear that I was going to have to be very careful about how I spent each month’s check. And that’s when it started.
As I began making choices to save a dollar here and there, I was confronted by the fact that so many of my peers didn’t seem to be in the same predicament. While others enjoyed weekend trips to Miami, weekly blowouts, and daily cocktails after work, I was just excited to splurge on a trip to Whole Foods once a month. Now this article could go in so many different directions from this point, from how to effectively budget your money to the probability that most of my peers were amassing credit card debt or getting financial support from their families. But for the purpose of this post, I want to discuss that demoralizing feeling so many of us have had when we start to equate our self worth with our net worth.
During this period, what I found myself constantly thinking was “I must not be smart enough”, “I’m not assertive enough” or “I guess I don’t have as much value to offer my workplace”. After all, compared to my friends, here I was struggling to make end’s meet. Sure I knew in the back of my mind that some of my friends were getting money from their parents while others had a trust fund to sit on, yet none of that seemed to matter when it came down to going out for dinner and being the only one who couldn’t afford more than an appetizer.
So many of us can feel this same sense of worthlessness and shame around how much money we make because it’s so easy to tie a number to our value as a human. After all, we do it for most objects, services, and experiences so why not do it to ourselves? We boast of celebrities and influencers who have enormous net worth and praise them as exceptional human beings.
And so it begs the question…
Let’s be honest with ourselves. There’s that sense of pride, self-assurance, and empowerment that we feel when we’re able to afford luxury goods or experiences. Most often that’s because we believe that by having the capability of affording such a thing, we are demonstrating to ourselves and others that we are one or all of the following: worthy, deserving, powerful, or intelligent. After all, how else could we afford such a thing?
Take a moment and think about what first comes to mind when you meet someone who lives in a big house, takes exotic vacations abroad, or appears to have a high net worth. Even if a part of us rolls our eyes at their superfluous lifestyle, the majority of us have an impression that this person must have some extraordinary capabilities to offer in return for the money they’ve amassed, even if that talent is to swindle.
And that may be the case. It’s also somewhat unrealistic to ever completely detach ourselves from that spark of joy we feel when we’re able to afford a luxury good or finally get that pay raise we’ve wanted.
And yet, what I experienced early on and want to consider in this article is our value as humans separate from our paychecks, revenues, profits, and net worth.
As blunt and rude as it may sound, the real question is…
Most probably, many of you are responding with a resounding “of course not”. Yet as much as we may know that in our hearts and minds, consider how much anxiety, shame, and guilt you feel from time to time because of your financial situation. A father who can’t afford to buy his child a bicycle, thinking someone is out of your league just because they come from a wealthy background, or realizing that you can’t afford to join your friend’s bachelorette party. We can all empathize with this mix of feelings, and in those cases, we are prone to criticize ourselves for not being smart or competent enough to provide more value for those we love.
It’s important in those moments to become aware of what you’re indirectly telling yourself about yourself when it comes to your self-worth. Just a few moments ago you acknowledged that, that number on your paycheck does not equate to your value as a human being, so allow that awareness to drive the conversation happening in your mind.
Another important aspect to consider when determining our own self worth is how easily we attach what happens around us to our own value and capabilities. So many parts of our environment are completely outside of our control and influence, and yet it’s easy to allow those variables to serve as testaments to our success, failures, luck, and performance. The country we were born in, the company that had to lay us off, the neighborhood we live in, or how much money our parents have. So many of these conditions are beyond our control and yet we allow them to dictate our own perception of ourselves and others.
More than that, within our own lives we often allow our good and bad experiences to define our self-worth. But think about it. Life is always full of ups and downs; through all of these positive and negative experiences, the one constant is our own being, whose value and worth never changes. One day you could have a great day at work and feel on top of the world, and the next day you could receive devastating news that makes you feel disappointed and small. If we can step back though and see that those external situations don’t actually have any impact on our being and self-worth, we’ll learn to see everything that happens around with less gravity and resistance.
Money, success, praise, and material accumulation… it all comes and goes. These are all temporary while your being is permanent. Not one of these variables can change your being without your permission. Oftentimes in meditation, we compare ourselves to the sky. Because like the sky we are a vast field of energy in which every kind of weather and cloud passes; yet all of those storms, bright clouds, and thunder pass while we remain just as we are.
After all, regardless of your income, job title, and earning potential, think of how any of those variables affect the love your pets, children, or loved ones have for you.
This leads us to our final question.
This was the question I finally had to ask myself at the age of 23 when I found that I was continuously criticizing myself for not being able to afford what I thought I should be able to afford at that point. At first my mind was blank. It can be difficult to list out everything you have to offer that doesn’t require any money. Yet over time, I found this to be such a helpful exercise in dissolving all of those self-critical thoughts and feelings of money shame and frustration.
Over the last few years, I’ve used meditation as a way of observing the stories I tell myself about myself and every so often, another self-critical thought comes up regarding money. With the help of asking myself the aforementioned question as well as trying compassion and gratitude meditations, I feel much more sure about what value I have to offer that has nothing to do with how much money I make.
And, in fact, I found that by nourishing my self-worth, I was able to positively influence my net worth. In a later article, we’ll consider how overcoming your self-doubt and criticisms can launch you into incredible opportunities and the life you deserve.
And now as always, I’d love to hear from your experiences in coping with money shame or separating your net worth from your self-worth.