Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Gena Bigler: How do you define yourself? Time to diversify your self-esteem investment
In America, after being introduced to a new person, it’s typical to ask or be asked, “What do you do?” Everyone accepts that this question refers to your employment. But really, what DO you do? I usually stumble on this question…I do a lot of things. Besides my primary job, I write this column, teach birth education classes, help mothers and babies successfully breastfeed, spend time nurturing my children, support causes and political parties I believe in and more. I am more than my job. We are all more than our job description.
We live in a capitalist society. Money talks and how we earn it says something about us. If we aren’t careful, our self-worth can become intertwined with our employment. Our financial success can become our only measure of personal success. If we rely on dollars to tell us our value, we risk putting our confidence in the hands of our employer or at the mercy of a less than ideal economy.
Facing unemployment is difficult enough without the added burden of it shaking the foundation of our self-esteem. If you doubt your value, it’s nearly impossible to “sell” yourself to a new employer. Self-confidence is crucial in finding new employment. By limiting the significance you place on what you earn, you can better deal with the financial obstacles that come with unemployment and the added stress of job hunting.
I heard someone on the radio say that we measure others by their success and ourselves by our failures. It rings true, especially with finances. There was a commercial on television that featured a middle-aged man talking about all the stuff he had, a new car, a big house, a golf club membership and then he says, “I’m in debt up to my eyeballs, somebody help me.” You never really know what someone else’s financial life is like. Al Capone had nice stuff. It didn’t make him a good person. Judging yourself or others by financial trappings is at best unreliable.
How do you diversify your investment in your self-esteem? Making a conscious choice to appreciate the intangible is a good start. Focus on all the things you do well. Focus on the good things in your life. Practice gratitude for what you do have, your family, your health, your talents, your network of friends and colleagues. Volunteer for a cause you care about. Helping others is immensely rewarding and doesn’t cost a dime. Serving others also helps you appreciate what you have. A friend recently posted a quote on Facebook, “The things you take for granted, someone else is praying for.”
Valuing all that you do is important. Celebrate your complexity. Recognizing that your employment is just one part of what you do is the first step to appreciating your true value. Van Gogh only sold one painting during his entire lifetime. If he judged his value as a painter by his financial success, we may never have benefitted from the beauty of his vast collection of masterpieces. Edgar Allen Poe sold his celebrated story “The Raven” for $9.
Money is important, but it is not a gauge of our value. Both Van Gogh and Poe made contributions to the world that are immeasurable in value. I am so grateful that they didn’t let their lack of financial success stop them from sharing their unique talents.
Embrace your unique talents, appreciate your employment but don’t let it become the definition of “you.” You are more than what you get paid to do. The next time you are asked, “What do you do?” Give an unexpected answer.
Gena Bigler is passionate about public service and credits her time serving nonprofits in AmeriCorps and Volunteers in Service to America (V.I.S.T.A.) with teaching her extreme budgeting and bargain shopping. Gena is now CFO of a Kentucky business and serves on the board of the Kentucky RiverKeeper. Gena would be happy to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.