I’ve sometimes had a rocky relationship with numbers. In school I was terrified of getting bad grades, which are basically numbers (after all, an “A” represents 100%, “B” represents 90%, and so forth). As an adult, I was often overly concerned with the amount of money I was earning (I say “overly” because the concern didn’t help me earn any more money, I just spent a lot of mental energy worrying about it).
To be fair, my interest in numbers has sometimes been very enjoyable. As a child, I loved poring over baseball stats, especially for my favorite team, the San Francisco Giants. This childhood habit seems to have morphed rather nicely into my current money management habit. My problems with numbers started to occur when I attached too much importance to them. Like the baseball hitter who is worried about his batting slump, I got caught again and again obsessing over my numbers as if they defined me.
There is nothing wrong with tracking your own numbers in any endeavor and even striving to reach certain goals. But when your attitude about yourself changes by how you “did” that day, or that month, or that year (“I got a home run today, so I guess I’m alright!” “I didn’t hit at all today, I’m worthless!”), you’re in for a rocky road.
Through both my school days and my money-earning adult days, I have tended to be extremely hard on myself whenever I failed to meet my own expectations. There was no middle ground: any time I didn’t “win,” suddenly I was a loser, or an idiot, or a failure. In school, I literally worked myself sick in order to get an “A” in a class. This might seem like a desire for high achievement, and to some extent that was true. But I was also trying desperately to avoid failure. It was as if I thought I was on the chopping block if I didn’t perform perfectly. I was terrified to make mistakes or to relax for even one minute, because it might lower my “numbers” (ie I might fail!), and then I’d be rendered a loser once again.
Or so my mind told me. And for a long time, I believed it.
This kind of conditional self-approval–I say conditional because I only approved of myself if I met ongoingly certain conditions–set me up to be constantly stressed and feeling like I wasn’t enough. I was always playing catch up. My mindset was rooted in fear of what others would think if I ever fell short. My mind was a cruel and merciless slave driver judging me constantly when things went “wrong.” Often, what started as a natural fascination with numbers and doing well became an excuse to torture myself if those numbers were somehow not satisfactory.
You just can’t control all circumstances. As they say, “you win some, you lose some.” That’s fine if you can keep a level head in good times and bad. But what about when you judge yourself by how much you win? What about when you judge yourself harshly if you ever lose?
My experiences in these matters have taught me the importance of finding a sense of self-approval that can’t be shaken by the fickle numbers of daily performance. We should learn to give ourselves unconditional self-approval that is independent of how well we think we are doing in our lives. We should say to ourselves, “I think I’m pretty cool. I like myself. I know I always do my best, and that’s good enough for me!” And then be satisfied that we are worthy no matter what.
Our sense of self-worth should not be attached to our net worth!
Again, to be clear: I think it’s great to grow your net worth! I just think it’s asking for trouble to attach your own sense of value as a person to it. Numbers can be a valuable measure of our ability to create results in certain areas of life. But they do nothing to define our worth as human beings. They should not get to tell us whether we are worthy people, or whether we deserve to feel good about ourselves.
So let’s play our games of looking at our numbers in the walks of life that are importance to us. Let’s enjoy winning, let’s strive to be our best. And then when we are done each day, let’s be satisfied, knowing that our innate value as human beings is unaffected.
Because win or lose, our worth is immeasurable.