How do you measure your worth?

I was talking with some ninth grade students the other day about their experience during work week. Where I live, students in ninth grade (and in some schools in eighth grade too) work for one week during the school year to learn the whole process of writing a curriculum, taking contact with the employer, sometimes even being interviewed, and get the experience of working for a week.

For some students, this is the first time they have a “real” job, and it is always very nice to hear their experiences. It is not surprising that some of them find it more meaningful to be out in the world learning a profession instead of spending their days at school.

We started a nice discussion about how nowadays, the worth of a student is measured mainly by her grades. Furthermore , it is assumed that in order to be successful in life, you have to do well in school and go to university. There are very few professions today that do not require higher education. But this is not the point in this post. The point is that one of the girls I was talking with was telling me that she doesn’t feel like a very intellectual person, she struggles to get what is considered good grades, and this of course affects her self-esteem. We then started talking about what makes a person valuable. This is always a very interesting topic to discuss with teenagers.

I once had a discussion about self-value with another student from tenth grade. For him, what made him a valuable young man was his performance at school and in sports. When I asked what would happen if he had an accident that made him sit in a wheelchair and unable to continue studying, would this mean that he would be less valuable? His answer was, yes, he would be less worth because he would not be able to do anything of ‘value’. I was shocked by his answer, and he was shocked when I challenged this idea. I sincerely believe that we cannot measure our worth by our achievements in the practical world. It is a dangerous thing to do so because when we fail, we loose our ground. So, if our worth is not connected to our achievements , what gives us value as humans?

Some of us, place our worth in comparison with other people. I know that for years, I have been struggling to imprint in my mind the fact that in reality, no one is more or less worth than I am. Nothing that I do or don’t do affect my value as a human.

I don’t know how it is for other people, but now that I am more aware of my thoughts, I have realised since I was a kid I’ve been comparing myself with other people. I often thought other kids my age were cooler, funnier and more exciting to be with; other girls were prettier and more interesting; my brothers were smarter and so on.

The other uglier side of this habit is when I believe that I am ‘better’ than other people by looking at their “flaws” and rejoicing in the fact that at least that, I don’t do. It was honestly embarrassing to discover the boost of self-esteem (fake, I would add) I get from this kind of thinking. Without trying to justify it, it does make sense, doesn’t it? We all suffer from insecurities, we know very well our weaknesses, but we rarely know our strengths. It is then comforting that some mistakes other people make, we don’t make.

But, am I more worth than the people that make the mistakes I haven’t made? Or than the people that behave in what I perceive as inappropriate? What about when I make my own mistakes or behave in inappropriate ways? Does my worth go down then? How do we measure? Who is in charge of measuring? Who has the right to measure?

I think that going around comparing our value with others’ only creates separation. Separation from our deeper self and separation between the me and the other. In my opinion, this is just an illusion.

For years, I knew this person that I perceived as difficult. I would hear stories about this person’s challenging behaviour and think ‘I do better than that’. I kept comparing myself with this person, until one day, I found out that we were going through a similar problem. I then identified myself with the feelings this person was experiencing, and suddenly, the gap between us disappeared. This reminded me that at the end of the day, we all want the same things in life but seek them in different places in different ways.

I think it is important at some point in life to reflect on this. Where do we anchor our self-value? Which criteria do we use to value other people? Can we see the same potential in everyone and accept that we all are limited by our minds in different ways?

These days, I’m savoring the concept of Pure Potential. I’m sure I’ll write a little text about it in the future, but in the meantime you can listen to this lecture from my teacher, Prasad Rangnekar, about it.