October 1, 2002 Regular News Stresslines: The bottom line on finding worth The bottom line on finding worth Dr. Bernard G. Suran If asked “What are you worth?” most of us, either swelling with pride or going hangdog, would quote the balance sheet: bank accounts, stock accounts, CDs, home equity, various investments, etc. Whether we’re feeling well-off or fairly broke, we tend to equate “worth” with money.And, yet, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Francis of Assisi and many more of the famous poor were unquestionably “worth” a lot more than the lack of a jingle in their pockets or even the bulging coffers of famous wealthy contemporaries. Also, we all know or know of a goodly number of filthy rich people who aren’t “worth” a farthing.Not that poor is a virtue. But, neither is rich.Doesn’t “worth” relate to values other than the accumulation of moola? Sure it does.Worth should involve the improvements we make in our little plot in the universe: the good use we’ve made of our gifts, how good a parent we’ve become, how good a friend we’ve become, how good a citizen we’ve become, what we have made of ourselves, how good a life we have led (or, perhaps betting the come, are about to lead).In the final accounting, shouldn’t we all put back as much or more than we’ve taken out or used? Really, how do we pay the rent on the 75-year lease the actuarial tables give us for the space we take on planet Earth? With a cashier’s check?Money owns a permanent spot in everyone’s consciousness, but hasn’t it grown more ridiculous of late? Sadly, all the baby billionaires squeezing the green from the Internet have turned our gazes green with envy over all the green stuff somebody else is getting.Of course, those guys were knocking out 18-hour workdays and living miserable lives; but there was the expectation that they would soon cash in their stock options, buy a desert island and settle in to a life of leisure. Right? Never mind the plunging NASDAQ.How many of us ever have enough? None of us — because it’s not about enough.“Enough” might set limits on apple pie, late-night TV, and even tippling a great cognac; but there’s no “enough” when it comes to money. Money is numbers, and the “enough” of numbers runs to infinity. What’s the harm? Having more money doesn’t seem to hurt us, right? Unless chasing the green shrivels other parts of our lives and enslaves us to the grindstone of mattress stuffing.Of course, there’s nothing wrong with making money. Honestly. As long as it’s only one of many life goals and not the whole goal of life. Nor is there anything problematic in doing some of our work just for money; but, when we do all of our work only for money, we may end up loving our money and hating our work, which is a shame because work we dearly need. No one’s life grows meaningful without committed and constructive work.Yes, we work for money. It’s necessary and makes sense — when the object involves paying the rent, putting food on the table, educating children, improving quality of life, creating security and independence, providing for those we leave behind, or even buying trinkets with various price tags. Then, money acquires true worth from the purpose it is intended to serve; a genuine good for ourselves or for others.If the pursuit of moola occurs in the service of purposes that have true value, our lives make sense. However: If the preservation of assets or the accumulation of more bears no relationship to real (or even imagined) needs, hasn’t the case become quite irrational? And, yet, the drive to accumulate proceeds unchecked.A host of foolish reasons compel some of us to whack out regarding money. For starters, there’s the competition/power issue. The measuring stick. He/she who dies with the most toys wins. What are those people trying to prove and to whom are they trying to prove it?Also, the anger/revenge issue. Ever been burned or shamed in the workplace? We’ll show those bastards. We’ll make enough money that we can tell the rest of the world to shove it. High and deep. Become impregnable. Then, rub it in. There’s a purpose. And if we ever achieve it, the likelihood exists that those we intended to stick it to have passed on from their earthly delights or are drooling in the home. Better just to settle down to a leather-bound copy of The Count of Monte Cristo. We’ll never do it better than he did.Likewise, the simple fact of addiction. Addicted to money. Living life with a calculator at the fingertips. Counting, counting, counting. It might be more productive to take a good nap and count some sheep.Of course, certain individuals are truly inspired and capable of evolving some uniquely esoteric reason for devoting their lives to accumulation. Maybe Citizen Kane just had some deep-seated and irrational fear of poverty. Or, maybe the only thing that ever really mattered to him was that Rosebud sled on a childhood Christmas. Whatever. The poor bastard sure was driven to accumulate.It’s so much better when money and work move like two dancers in perfect step: resonant to each other and serving each other. When the need for money drives us to do good work and the money we made from it helps us work well — well, then God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world. We all need to secure multiple purposes from and for our work: personal satisfaction, meaningful accomplishment, exercise of creativity, service to others, the sheer pleasure of doing well that which we do.When “money alone” becomes the whetstone for our measure of meaning, we desiccate the whole of us to serve some part of us that might best remain unserved.Thus, it’s worth periodically examining our attitudes toward money. Healthy attitudes toward money enable us to re-dedicate ourselves to healthy work. If, nearing the end of your time, you were asked “What did you amount to?” would you be inclined to a dollars-and-cents response?It’s better to keep in mind the words of William James: “The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.” Dr. Bernard G. Suran, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and diplomat and fellow of the Academy of Clinical Psychology and the American Board of Professional Psychology. This column is published under the sponsorship of the Quality of Life and Career Committee. The committee’s Web site is at www.fla-lap.org/qlsm. The Quality of Life and Career Committee, in cooperation with the Florida State University College of Law, also has an interactive listserv titled “The Healthy Lawyer.” Details and subscription information regarding the listserv can be accessed through the committee’s Web site or by going directly to www.fla-lap.org/qlsm.