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What My Negative Net Worth Said About Me

Updated: Feb 22, 2022

“Come on,” I thought, “come on.”

It was 7:04 in the morning. With wet hair, I stood over the bed, half-dressed, waiting for to finish refreshing.

It was payday (or, as I liked to call it back then, “Net Worth Day.”)

The light green screen stopped.

I could see it: my net worth was officially positive.

I was officially worth a whopping thirty-six dollars.

Thirty-six dollars.

Finally, for one of the first times since graduate school, I was balance positive.

A nice moment. But kind of bleak.

I wanted to cry.

Thirty-six dollars.

Back in 2012, I was immature about money (in case you couldn't tell).

Somehow, I had absorbed the cultural messaging that “my net worth was my self-worth” or my net worth somehow determined who I was as a person.

That's an understandable mistake to make. Google any celebrity and the fourth result in the search bar inevitably involves "net worth." Or, watch any TV show, and you'll hear an offhanded remark like, "she's worth a gajillion dollars." Or, just notice any red hot celebrity and witness the way people fawn over them. Cultural cues will tell you that you are the number in your bank account.

Which is dehumanizing, stupid, and shallow.

People are not numbers.

People have infinite value.

People are people: irreplaceable and unique.

Since that day, I’ve adapted a healthier mindset about net worth that I wanted to share with you.

Net worth is a barometer of economic value (NOT intrinsic) value. If we want to tie it work, a positive net worth means one has produced and retained more than consumed; a negative net worth means the opposite. If we want to tie it to assets, a positive net worth means more value in assets than liabilities, and a negative is vice versa.

Now, I just see net worth in the same category as something like triglycerides. I check it once, or perhaps twice a month, but it doesn't define me. Besides, it's also silly to tie up an identity in net worth because that could change and even disappear instantly.

Life's too big and beautiful for that.

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