One of the things that has disturbed me recently is the fact that some of the people in my life attach an absurd amount of importance to money. Specifically, they measure someone’s worth as a person by his or her net worth. This disturbs me because, while I think that money can be a great tool, I don’t think it defines your worth as a person. But such is the case. This person feels entitled, by his superior earning power and net worth, to take charge, dictate terms, and generally look down on everyone else.
Not only that, but talking to him is being treated to a constant litany of the awesome things that he has. You received a nice pair of cowboy boots for your birthday? Well, he’s got an even better pair, and my GOODNESS they were TRULY expensive. And it is all about the expense. From expressing surprise at how much it costs to do the yoga studio “right” in your home to pointing out how great it is to have a loaded Mercedes SUV, this dude makes it very clear that you aren’t qualified for anything unless you can quantify it in dollar terms.
And heaven help you (in his eyes) if you are satisfied with the simple pleasures life has to offer. I mean, really, how can you life PROPERLY and have appropriate worth if you aren’t making six figures?
Do You Let Others Define You?
The difficult thing is that spending time with those who measure personal worth by net worth can start to rub off on you. I like my smallish house. It’s the right size for my family of three, and it is easy to keep clean. However, after spending time with a few folks who measure your success as a person by the size of your home and the manicured quality of your extensive lawn, and it’s hard not to start letting those thoughts infect you.
Sometimes, I let it get to me, and I become dissatisfied with my clothes, my activities, and just about everything else. For some reason, I feel like I need to PROVE something to this guy so that he knows I’m totally “worth it” as a person. When that happens, you run the risk of letting others define you and set your path. That can be dangerous when it comes to your finances as well.
If you spend too much time with those who have different financial values than you have, you start to lose sight of what’s important to YOU. Instead, you modify your spending behaviors and decisions to fit in with someone else’s conception of what it means to be successful and satisfied in life. If you don’t have enough money to keep up, you start using debt to cover the “shortfall.” Before you know it, you can be in deep — all because you were trying to be someone else.
One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that I need to live life on my own terms. A huge net worth doesn’t impress me, and I don’t care about having a bunch of things. That’s my personal preference. This other guy feels good about his stuff and how much it costs. That’s just fine. But I can’t let it start defining me. I can’t let it change the way I do things.
When I start feeling down about things, I try to take a step back and ask myself: Why do I want that? If the answer has more to do with impressing someone else, rather than increasing my own enjoyment of life and advancing toward my own goals, it’s a pretty indication that I am moving away from my own values.
It can be hard not to equate net worth with personal worth, but it’s important not to. And when I start feeling envy, I take a step back. I know other people who have been selfless in their giving. They help others, and sacrifice for others. They don’t make as much money as this other guy, but they make a real difference in the lives they touch. When I start getting restless about my situation, I take a deep breath and focus on the people that are doing good work in this world, and push Mr. Materialism out of my mind.
Sometimes, it’s more about your focus than anything else.