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The Intimate Link Between Money & Self-Esteem

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

I haven’t been making a lot of money. For the past few months I’ve been dodging unknown callers (out of fear they are a credit company) and saying, “I’ll pay you back” to my friends more times than I can count. As a result, my self-esteem has plummeted.

I’ve felt valueless, worthless, and utterly insecure.


Because I’m not making very much money.

But … if I feel so worthless because I’m not making money, that means I’m basing my worth in the money I make.

I logically recognize I have worth and value outside of a job. In fact, I believe most of my value lies outside of a job.

I’m an unpaid writer/actor/comedian. I hope to make money off of these pursuits one day, but today is not that day. I still feel my creative work holds value.

I think they hold more value than any “survival job” I could have, actually. I offer my voice, my perspective, and my experience through my work. If I speak my truth, maybe (hopefully) it will speak to someone else, make them feel less alone, open their heart, or make them laugh. To me, that’s important.

I also find worth and value in the person I am and how I treat others.

All of this, I feel, offers value to the world in one way or another, because we are all connected. How I treat someone can affect how they treat the next person they interact with, and so on. It matters.

So, if those things matter, why is my self esteem the lowest it’s ever been?

Because I am a product of America’s capitalism.

This is, I believe, the result of my internalization of capitalism.

I’ve found myself thinking recently, “I want a job so I can feel like I’m doing well.” or “I want a job so I can finally get those jeans from Madewell that will finally make me feel trendy and good about myself.”

I call bullshit.

External validation. Status. Insatiable hunger for material crap. None of it actually matters.

But it feels like it does. It would feel so good to be told, “Good job!” It would make me feel like people valued me and my actions.

I’d love to hear, “Cute jeans!” I could respond with where I bought them, and people would know I could afford clothes from such a store.

I don’t actually care about those things, but when I feel insecure, it sure feels like I do.

I read somewhere that we all need a certain amount of money to be happy. We need our material needs to be met. This means enough food, water, and shelter. You want to feel comfortable. You don’t want to be wondering how you’re going to get your next meal. If you’re constantly anxious about your basic needs, it’s extremely difficult to be happy. But once you cross that threshold and you have enough, it doesn’t make you happier to have more.

Though I’m logically behind that 100%, I don’t feel that way all the time.

For example, I caught myself the other day thinking about all of the makeup I’m going to buy when I get a new job. I started thinking about how pretty it will make me feel and how happy it will make me when other people notice.

Makeup will not make me a happier person. I know this. So then why am I having these thoughts!?

It’s because it will make me feel like I’m successful. It will make me feel worthy.

But that’s not what it will really do. Maybe temporarily, it will. But then I’ll want the next thing. And I’ll need to get the promotion to get the next big thing. It’s a never-ending merry-go-round of bullshit.

Photo by Aditya Vyas on Unsplash

Recently my dad told me,

“You are already successful, because you wake up everyday and move towards your dream. You do things you care about everyday that are contributing to your creative goals. That is a successful life. Do you think it’s successful to have a job you hate or don’t care about, even if you’re making a lot of money? That’s not success.”

He’s a wildly supportive dad. I’m super lucky.

And he’s right. He’s so right. I don’t know if he realizes how important this was for me to hear.

Reframing how I look at my life is empowering.

This perspective places value on my personal and creative progress and efforts, not so much on the social or fiscal indications of a “successful” career.

That is important, I think.

We have this idea that someone is “worth” their assets (i.e. “Brad Pitt is worth $240 million…according to Wikipedia). In our society, we reward the results other people see, not the process or progress or struggle.

I would go even further to argue that perhaps we could even find value simply in our humanity and who we are, rather than in our work ethic or struggle.

Are we valuable even if we don’t work hard?

I believe so!

I know that might be an unpopular opinion or sound radical to some readers.

Sure, it doesn’t make us valuable to the capitalist system. But is capitalism’s value system the only value system that exists?

We’ve accepted the idea that if we don’t work hard, we are valueless. If we don’t make money, we are worthless. If we don’t contribute to our economy through mindless spending, we’ve worked hard for nothing and we aren’t contributing to our great country.

Where does that leave those of us who would rather not rot away at a cubicle in order to pay a mortgage and get the BMW?

Where does that leave those of us who contribute in different ways?

What’s hopeful to me is that people can figure out how to live life on their own terms, to an extent. We are able to reject what we’ve been taught and try something different. And I’m very grateful for that.

My friend just told me about a girl who is in her late twenties, is a remote copywriter, and lives in a van with her boyfriend. They travel around the country and sleep in parking lots or camp sites. This is exciting to me, because they are making their lives work for them! They are basing their self-esteem, life’s worth, and personal goals in something outside of what they’ve been taught is “success” and “happiness.” I love that.

I’d like for who I am to empower me more than my income. And I’d like for that to inform how I live.

That said, I do not live in a vacuum. I live on planet Earth. I live in America. And I need a job. I need to work to survive. And I need to pay the credit card company back. It’s just a matter of finding my own way of creating that for myself, sans cubicle.

I think it takes constantly reminding myself that my self-esteem and who I am are not innately defined by my level of productivity or my bank account. They are defined by whatever I want to define them by, for myself.