What Are You Worth?

All Super-Achievers Have at Least One Thing in Common

Posted Aug 26, 2013

Children are self-centered. They believe they are special, unique and supremely important. They believe the world revolves around them. Just ask a child what he or she thinks was the most important thing that happened in the world in the past year. While an adult might refer to some event that had a national or global impact, a child will give a different answer. Most will identify some event specific to his or her life as being the most important event in the world―a dog having puppies, having a certain teacher in school, getting a new bike or taking a vacation to Disneyland. 

What We Think Is Possible

This self-immersed lack of perspective is normal and natural. Children have not yet developed the mental capacity to see the world through someone else’s eyes, to evaluate another’s perspective or to empathize with the thoughts and feelings of those around them. Children believe that things happen or do not happen because they are involved, because they want them to happen, or because they don’t want them to happen. When children receive praise and affirmations for a job well done, they do not question the endorser’s motives. Instead they wholeheartedly embrace the compliment. They beam with pride and believe that yes, indeed, perhaps they could be the next Picasso, Michael Jordan or President of the United States. These beliefs have a powerful impact on what children think is possible, and who they believe they are. 

Who we become and what we accomplish begins with this belief about who we think we are. In fact, all super-achievers have at least one thing in common: They all believe it is possible to achieve their dreams. Without this belief, one would be crazy to take all the time, effort and risk it takes to succeed. 

Internalizing Negative Messages

Unfortunately, when children are repeatedly given the message that there is something wrong with them, they internalize this message with just as much vigor. Too many of us grow up thinking there is something wrong with us. We believe we are flawed, we lack some important characteristic or we think we are downright worthless. These messages can come to us in many forms. Perhaps when we were young we were repeatedly compared to a smarter classmate, a more athletic sister, a prettier friend or a more accomplished brother. Perhaps we were told we were stupid, ugly, lazy or a mistake. Some get the message they are flawed in more indirect ways such as by being physical or emotional abused, resulting in a sticky belief that we must be bad enough to deserve it.  Since children are self-centered and are not able to question the motives of others, they begin to assume they are just getting what they deserve. As they grow up, they tend to seek out people and situations that confirm and reinforce their self-image. Before long, they have accepted the psychological script they were given as a fundamental and unchanging truth and create a life consistent with their beliefs.

Each of Us Has a Unique Set of Talents

Despite the negative messages we may have received, each of us has been given a unique set of talents. Often, these gifts are hard to recognize in ourselves because we have not yet identified them, or we minimize their importance. Our talents make certain tasks fun and easy for us, because they come so naturally. However, what comes naturally for us is unnatural and difficult for many others. As such, when we are trying to discover our gifts, we should pay close attention to the compliments we receive from others. Doing something well and being recognized for it raises our self-esteem. However, self-esteem is not the same as self-worth. Self-esteem is our sense of our ability to do things well. It is how we feel about our ability to perform. It is subject to the ebbs and flows of outcomes, which are often not entirely in our control. Self-worth goes much deeper than our most recent achievement. Self-worth involves the degree to which we see ourselves as a worthwhile human “being” versus a human “doer.” If you are unable to run, jump, skip, talk, earn a living or care for others, what are you worth? 

Self-Worth Is More Important Than Self-Esteem

While building self-esteem is fun, it is much more important to focus on deepening one’s sense of self-worth. In addition to congratulating others and ourselves on a job well done, it is vital that we focus on our intangible, characterological value, such as our personality, intellect, kindness, creativity, initiative or generosity to build feelings of self-worth. Affirmations like, “You mean the world to me,” or “I really like how much you care about others,” or “You can become anything you want to be in this world,” or “I am so lucky to have you as a spouse/child/friend,” go much deeper than self-esteem-raising statements such as, “You did a great job mowing the lawn,” or “You are really good at math,” or “You look very pretty today.” 

We benefit from all kinds of compliments, but there will come a day when you will no longer be able to work due to aging or illness. There will come a day when you fail to achieve a goal. Someday you will hurt or disappoint the people you care about most. Through the normal course of aging and illness, there will come a day when you won’t be able to “do” much of anything. When that day comes, what will you be worth?     

Dr. Brad Klontz, Psy.D., CFP®, is a financial psychologist, an Associate Professor and Founder of the Financial Psychology Institute at Creighton University Heider College of Business, a Managing Principal of Occidental Asset Management (OCCAM). and co-author of five books on financial psychology, including Mind Over Money: Overcoming the Money Disorders That Threaten Our Financial Health.

You can follow Dr. Klontz on Twitter at @DrBradKlontz.