Working with men for decades, I've discovered that most buy into the notion that their self-worth can best be measured by their financial success. That belief is totally misguided and it's especially damaging to men over 50 who are struggling financially in tough economic times.
A man who can't distinguish between self-worth and net worth judges himself by other people's standards -- not his own values -- and will feel like a failure if his net worth is low and like a winner if it's high. Neither feeling reflects the true quality of his manhood. Neither is valid.
So, if the amount of money a man amasses isn't the measure of his self-worth, what is? Here's my answer: how much he gives -- of his time, energy, caring, and love -- to his family, his friends, and his community. And here's how it's done:
A husband takes the time to understand his wife's hopes and dreams and supports her efforts to achieve them. This emotional and spiritual support is priceless and contributes far more to a vital, healthy relationship than money. Actively helping his wife realize her dreams enhances a man's self worth.
A father is intimately involved in raising his children, coaches their teams, goes to their games, attends parent-teacher conferences, and spends his spare time teaching his kids values they can live by. Sure, kids might miss having the latest clothes, games, and electronic gadgets, but they'll have a dad they know cares about, and is there for them no matter what. A father who sacrifices his personal time and spends it with his kids instead will be their hero for life. In the end, they'll appreciate the experience of camping in the woods with their dad more than a trip to Disneyland. All of this applies to divorced men whose children desperately need them in their lives.
A man appreciates the value of authentic friendship and nurtures his relationships with other men. Being there, when a friend is confused, lonely, or in trouble is a gift that money can't buy. A man's sense of self worth is enhanced by his willingness to give to his friends, even when it's inconvenient. And the payoff is that those men will be there when you're in need, too.
A man volunteers for community service. Teaching people to read, tutoring disadvantaged children, helping with a community project, mentoring, visiting elderly folks, or working at a homeless shelter take time and energy. This investment not only benefits the people directly involved, though. It models caring, concerned, civic responsibility and can play forward beyond a man's wildest dreams.
While he may never be featured on the cover of Fortune magazine, a man who works hard in his everyday life to be a good husband, father, friend, and citizen is being the best man he can be and is achieving his best manhood. Wives, children, friends, and neighbors honor men for their values and commitment, and they have earned high self-worth.
I don't give anyone the power to define my self-worth, and I won't feel I've done my part in the ongoing manhood debate until every man recognizes that his self worth is not in any manner connected to his net worth.