Have you ever felt like your self-worth is attached to the material things of the world? For instance - how much money you make, your rank and status at work, how well liked you are by your friends, or how smart you are in the eyes of your parents? I have.

As human beings, it is natural for us to keep comparing ourselves to others. And because we can only compare things that we can see and measure, we live in a world that is great at measuring and comparing external things. We decide who is living a more valuable life by comparing the brands we wear, how big our house is, what car we drive, or how big our paycheck is. In return, we make judgements about our own value by our possessions and achievements. These measurable things prove our earning capabilities, and the more expensive these things become, the better we feel better about ourselves. In the end, we associate our self-worth to how much money we make.

I grew up among family members who loved comparing other people’s salaries. Although they didn’t talk about actual figures, they spoke about it by comparing degrees, houses, and holidays. And as a lesson on how to live a successful life, they would point out how little someone was earning, and feel good that they were “more valuable”. But most other times, they would complain about how much more others were earning compared to us, and feel very envious and unworthy.

Over time, I saw how money became the only way they knew how to value things in the world. As a painful result, their attention became so focused on what we didn’t have, which in turn lowered our own self-esteem. It then became a vicious cycle - the more they focused on what they lacked, the more undervalued they felt, the less they contributed, and the more opportunities they missed out in life. We only saw the lack.

Research has shown a link between our self-esteem and how much we earn. But even more interesting, research also found that it’s the people who feel that they are lacking in status, power, or influence, that are willing to pay the most for things that bring them social status like expensive luxury things. This feeds a vicious cycle - the lower my self-worth, the less I might earn, but also end up paying more for material things.

I also began to discover that in today’s marketplace, price is no longer a good measure of value. It is all the more important for us to understand what contributes to our own sense of self.

How do you keep your authentic sense of self in the way you relate to money?
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Reflection Questions
  • 1. How do you measure your self-worth?
  • 2. What small steps can you take to build your own sense of self?
  • 3. How have you learnt about money in relation to your sense of self?

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