No one admires the wealthy.
There are people who are both wealthy and admirable. But no one admires wealth in and of itself.
We often wish we were millionaires. We do not believe that being a millionaire would make us better people. Less stressed people, certainly. Happier people, perhaps. But not different people.
We do believe this about good work. We believe that the right kind of work will change us. We believe, for example, that charity work will make us better. We believe that professions that change the world for the better are worthy professions. We believe that people who care for other people are good people.
The fact that they get paid for these efforts is secondary. The work is what matters.
No one admires the nurse for getting paid a fair wage when she stays overtime.
They admire her for being willing to stay.
Are You Pursuing Wealth or Worth?
One of the reasons it’s difficult to gain focus and momentum in any business is that pursuing money isn’t enough.
I’ve tried pursuing money. Even when I could barely make ends meet, the money was scarcely motivation enough to get me in front of the desk every day.
When I started making enough money to make ends meet and have a bit left over, there was even less appeal to my work. I didn’t need more wealth. Becoming more wealthy wasn’t an appealing ambition to me.
It wasn’t a worthy quest.
To become more immersed in my work, to find it important, I had to focus on something that mattered.
I had to know that my work wasn’t just going to bring me wealth. It was going to bring me worth.
The work was changing lives. The work was helping people. The work made little moments, day by day, a little better. I could make someone happy just by showing up and keeping my word. I could restore faith in humanity. I could be someone’s champion, someone’s hero.
Trying to become wealthy isn’t enough. Trying to become someone worth being is always enough.
I think most of us know this, deep inside. It’s why we have a hard time motivating ourselves to the next level of wealth. We’re not entirely certain we should care that much. We have the vague feeling there should be more than this.
There is. But it’s hard to see.
Keeping the Faith
While wealth isn’t as noble a goal as worthy work, it is stationary. If you’re striving to earn a few thousand every month, that number is static. Money doesn’t change. A dollar is always a dollar. It’s easy to shoot for a monetary goal because you can rely on it. You’ll know when you get there.
This isn’t the case for worth.
Your worth doesn’t have set values. You will never be able to measure your worth against a static measure and decide that you have enough to live on. You will never be finished acquiring worth. You will never be certain you are worthy enough.
Becoming wealthy is much easier than becoming worthy.
For one thing, you can’t see your own worth. You can see your bank balance, your credit card statements, the stack of cash you carry in your wallet. You can tally it, count it out, spread it around.
Your worth is hard because it is invisible. Your only point of comparison is you from a long time ago, and you from just recently. And your memory is an unreliable thing.
It is hard to remember that you have more worth than you did yesterday.
It is easy to know that you have more wealth.
This may be why others judge us on our wealth over our worth.
The Story of Djuha’s Sleeve
Now, Djuha was a wise man, but he was also a traveler, and his clothes were often dusty and torn. He arrived in a great city at the home of a great man, for a banquet to which he had been invited as an honored guest.
“I am Djuha,” he said to the servant at the door, and the servant looked him over from turban to toe, scoffed at the grime scrubbed into his garments, and closed the door in his face without offering the wise man so much as a well-turned insult to speed him on his way.
Djuha rubbed his beard, turned on his heel, and led his mule down an alley, where he pulled his costliest clothes from his pack and cleaned his face and hands in a bowl of water a woman had left out for her dog.
Returning to the door, he introduced himself again, and the servant, seeing a man of substance worthy of the name of Djuha, welcomed him in tones of deep respect and seated him with the other guests of honor.
Their host had not yet arrived, but plates of food were arranged prettily on the tables for the waiting guests. As Djuha reached for a piece of fruit, the sleeve of his ornate robe slipped into the bowl of sauce next to him.
“Sir,” the man next to him whispered politely, so as not to draw attention, “You may wish to retrieve your sleeve.”
“I appreciate your concern,” Djuha said. “But it is fitting that my sleeve should eat before me.” Turning to his sleeve, Djuha addressed it in a voice loud enough to carry to the reddening ears of the servant who stood at the door.
“Eat, my sleeve! And much joy make it bring you. You are clearly more respected than I in this house, so I must wait until you eat your fill.”
You Are Worth More Than Your Sleeves
Or your home or your possessions. We forget this, because when we start out, money matters greatly. It helps us keep a roof over our heads and food on the table.
But when money ceases to be a tool to get the necessities in life, it simply becomes an unworthy goal. It isn’t enough for us, and it’s often the reason we aren’t able to goad ourselves out of bed and onto the worktable.
We know the sleeves don’t matter. We forget that the people inside the sleeves do.
So this is the choice: with your work, will you feed yourself, or your sleeves?