My wife and I have rats in our house. Don’t wince! It’s not like they are running around eating crumbs off the floor. Basically, at least in South Carolina, if you have ANY little tiny vulnerability in your house’s exterior, and two rats make it in, you’ve got yourself a rat colony. Ba da bing.
So, I called the wildlife guy out, because exterminators basically poison them inside your house, and we all are supposed to then cross our fingers that they make it out before they keel over. Not a great route, especially if one doesn’t like the smell of decay.
He was really nice, and pretty tough, since it was 22 degrees this morning. He walked around, spied every possibility, went into the attic, went down beneath the house in the crawlspace (maybe some of you don’t know what this means, but it’s not terribly important), and the like.
The verdict: very likely rats, and they have a three week gestation period! So basically, no time to lose.
The price tag: $2,250. Holy shit! It is amazing the bad things that can happen to a person. This is coming five months after getting rid of bats in a rental property we own (price tag: $1,500). None of this is really suitable to run through homeowner’s insurance. So, we’re pooched, as they say.
This brought about a real sense of respect for this man. He must have a decent amount of self-worth – at least as far as his professional life is concerned. What a living he and/or his boss are making! They solve problems – complex ones – they get dirty, they know a lot of information, they take responsibility, and they charge an arm and a leg. People pay it because what else are you going to do about rats? I mean, you. What would someone like you or I do about a rat colony? It’s absolutely beyond our ability. I assume.
If you’ve ever been to a dentist, car mechanic, university, or school, you see how specialized professions are. I really have to hand it to those of us who do something that the rest of us either can’t do (e.g., the doctors and engineers among us) or don’t want to do (sanitation workers, for example). In fact, I was watching the ball drop the other night, and they were interviewing the head of New York’s sanitation department (or whatever) and he was suggesting that they plan to clean Times Square up by dawn. By dawn! It was already past midnight and New York apparently got like one million revelers that day and night. Such expertise, and commitment.
As I handed over my credit card, the feelings of respect combined with that of being gouged, gave way to a different thought as time passed. I began to ask myself about my self-worth. It’s what philosophers do.
Note that every profession I have listed (and those I haven’t, from psychotherapist to police officer to fucking construction worker) require something I don’t have. Maybe I could conceivably get there, but then again, am I cut out for construction? Could I really become a veterinarian, and at 43? Surgery, firefighting, and helicopter pilot are just completely out of the question. I am talking about skill and such, not whether I would want to be a barber or a pharmacist.
So, my thoughts about myself were basically about: do I measure up? What are my skills and abilities? What do I offer society that is in any way valuable or useful? Does my life really matter as far as those who don’t know me personally? These are questions about personal growth. And value. And meaning. And self-worth.
I don’t think these are questions about prestige, or income potential, or superiority/inferiority. I mean, when I fly on a private jet (which I have), see someone perform CPR and save a life (which I have), or when I watch Jeopardy! (which I have), I feel a certain sense of, how should I say, that my self-worth is less than it could be if I had a different comparison group.
Incidentally, psychologists have found that that is probably the number one way in which self-worth, self-esteem, and life satisfaction develop: through self-comparison. I don’t know if you have ever studied social psychology at all, but it’s really interesting and rewarding. Point being, a person on an island feels fine about how much money they have. Put him or her in Manhattan, and they will feel smaller. In sum, one’s self-worth is proportional to how we feel we measure up. It might not be a finding we like to admit is real, but I think it probably is. Keeping up with the Joneses is very influential in determining how happy a person is.
Those last two paragraphs were mostly a digression. Back to self-worth. I would like to think that where I am in life is worthy, laudable, and good (specifically, my roles are: the founder of Values of the Wise (VOW), the blogger of VOW, an author, an interviewer, a student at Harvard University Extension studying philosophy, a holder of some stock, and a landlord for a condo and a house).
I suppose I will assert myself and claim that the landlord and the stock owner are traditional or conventional roles that would be considered worthy enough (though landlords don’t have a great “reputation” or public image). I, however, am not fully responsible for my attainment of either of those statuses, I have to admit (and don’t want to go into further in this blog). The student at Harvard is, of course, laudable and prestigious, so that’s in the first category. I am proud of my diplomas and have accomplished a few neat things in life (I rehabbed a house that sold for 150% of the median house price in Charleston, SC and I once built and managed a restaurant in San Diego, and I have worked with troubled individuals and families in psychotherapy in my time).
But about the second category – VOW – I have some serious questions. I should probably note that my self-worth is closely tied with a rigorous self-honesty. I’m a big proponent of integrity and class. Thus, I don’t make it easy on myself sometimes. That is the life of a perfectionist.
I ask myself what good VOW is. I query how professional, worthy, and advanced my work is. Is my writing really good, or not really? Are the readings I do worth a darn? Is having assembled 27,000 quotes into a snazzy database as meritorious as I dream it is?
I ask these questions because, according to some hallmarks, the answers are not positive. For example, I dabble in politics, economics, personal growth, psychology, and philosophy in my mental wanderings. Thing is, I am deficient from the leaders in those fields. I look at my Twitter account and it’s obvious I am not very well-regarded in the world-at-large. I don’t have a Ph.D. in philosophy. CNN is not about to invite me on to discuss politics from an ethical perspective.
As author, I leave a lot to be desired. I swear, I cannot sell books worth a damn. I set the website up in large part to move potential book buyers to buy a book – at no small expense or effort – and it’s just not working. Like you, for example, will no doubt close out the page, thinking – either consciously or unconsciously – “I think this blog is (fill in the blank) but I’m very busy and there is a huge amount of information out there for free, so why should I buy a book for somewhere between $6 an $20?” I’m not saying you’re a bad person, and I’m sure you, like every other American, has serious concerns about finances. But it is what it is. You ain’t buyin’ a book. Hence my concern about my success as an author.
I am asking about my potential versus my accomplishment; I am questioning if I am good enough; I wonder if I have a right to feel proud. I am also pondering if I am in a funny profession. That is: thought leader/philosophical thinker/author/personal growth expert/student of wisdom. What I mean is, I guess, is that I am a generalist, and the measurement of success in this area (if it’s even an area!) is not as easy as some other yardsticks for what makes a professional worthy.
Or I might be kidding myself. Maybe if my website drew in more visitors a month or my books sold better, I would be consoled. That makes this more about self-pity or self-delusion than self-worth or accomplishment. Success is a funny thing.
I suppose I should do what I do best, which, more or less, is to bring apt and trenchant quotations to the fore. They have helped me out before. And I guess that is the process of philosophizing about self-worth at its best: being able to question one’s very self, and try to find the wisdom to develop an answer. And then, to realize that the answer is only semi-complete, half-correct, and marked by qualifications and nuance.
My highest goal is for me to be of service to you. Really, it’s true. I love to read and categorize thoughts and collect quotes and write about what’s on my mind or in my heart. But I realize as I watch the stats about my website that it’s really about me connecting with the world. Even though very few people write me or buy a book, I have to have faith (which is not a strength of mine) that people from all over the world come and use the site and get something from it.
Perhaps people like you (yes, you!) do appreciate the fact that this great site is free and ad-free. Maybe folks like yourself think my angle is fresh, creative, traditional, and uniquely progressive. Ideally, some people do see my qualifications, and appreciate my intentions and my craft, and really do think “this guy is indeed a bona fide philosophical thinker and independent scholar.”
It’s just that visitors don’t ever knock, and most of the time, don’t leave a note when they go. I guess that is how it is in this modern age, when information comes easily and we are all more or less connected with famous persons on Twitter and the like. It can be really lonely doing this, and it isn’t terribly surprising it leads to self-doubt. I think a lot of writers and other creative types love what they do, but long for more regard.
I do wish so very much to be valuable in your eyes. For better or worse, my self-worth is tied to how much of an impact I make on others. I do want to feel useful and successful. So, it would be great if you dropped me a line, told a friend about this site, or (gasp!) spent $20 on a fantastic book. I also would welcome your patronage at Patreon.com/ValuesoftheWise Of course, I hope you will take advantage of the many free and interesting tools at Values of the Wise, such as The Wisdom Archive, the awesome, 27,000-quote search engine.