Self Worth vs. Net Worth

Almost everyone I know has lost money over the past twelve months. They either had declines in stock held in retirement accounts, had to withdraw savings to make it, or have actually lost their job. When things like this happen people react differently; that is the interesting part to me.

I have three people in mind as I write. Let’s call them simply A, B and C. A is currently single with two almost-grown sons. A sold the company a couple of years ago and is “retired”. As it is told, there was about a 40% loss in net worth.

B is also single, early sixties, and had counted on investments to provide the foundation of retirement. Able to finally cut loose from corporate America, and finally able to follow a long time passion. A new business was started, and B is in the learning curve. Really caught off-guard by losses, and the loss hurt.

C is a fifty something still raising a family. C has always been an entrepreneur and has started several ventures over the last twenty years. While there was no loss from money in the market, the need for start up capital had already required the liquidation of holdings so that funds were available to start yet another venture. A livelihood is now dependent on the success of the new venture so every dollar spent is a dollar being taken away from savings and retirement.

With that scenario, who has taken the greatest blow to their self worth–A, B or C? If I were to evaluate these three scenarios, I would say A. While B took a loss that set retirement back, following a passion definitely elevates self-worth. C has the greatest practical risk but is also working every day to “make it happen”. Since there is no guarantee that any of the three will ultimately have the financial security they are working for, they must be able to work for a different purpose than profit.

This, I think, is part of the challenge of living in an industrialized, capitalistic society. With gain as the primary goal, many of us are left emotionally bankrupt. The way we define ourselves is so intertwined with our ability to earn and “win” that when a setback occurs, our self esteem takes a significant blow. Some never recover from such a setback. For others, they wake up the next day, kiss their kids, hug their spouse and start working on “Plan B”.

There are lots of references in our Book to not storing up riches and the hollow gains of silver and gold alone. There are also lots of references that point us toward the true origin of our self worth. “I am not my own”, “I have been bought with a price” and the complete care of lillies in the field. Absent this context, A, B and C will all lose sleep, worry and claim victory while really being terrified and living emotionally alone, afraid to share their true state of mind.

I find myself in all three scenarios. My daily struggle comes not from which position I find myself in today, but from wanting a rock solid answer to any scenario. Can I lay back into the uncertainty of a life of faith? Can I work hard while recognizing that I control nothing? When I sit alone and find myself in worry, for some reason old songs come to me. I suppose it is because such words have spoken comfort for decades; it is because there is truth in them. “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me”.

Posted by Steven C Wyer on 22 June 2009


~ by stevencwyer on June 22, 2009.

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