“What am I worth?”
This is the most vital question about our lives. And while tracking one’s net worth is a helpful financial tool, we all know that a number can’t summarize a human’s value.
Of course, most people don’t view increasing net worth as their ultimate life goal. There is, however, a very real temptation to become overly focused on a quantifiable value. While seeking to avoid materialism, consumerism, or debt, we could become slaves instead to the mistaken master of net worth. The antidote to an undue emphasis is to ensure we’re establishing real worth, or substantial impact in our world. In simpler terms–be helpful.
What Is Real Worth?
Real worth is given to us. We believe our true worth comes from God. If God loves us, then we are more valuable than we can comprehend. Whether or not you share this belief, we all sense that human life is precious and priceless.
Real worth means substance and capability. Real worth and net worth are not antithetical. Worthwhile contributions happen through our day jobs as we perform useful services in the world. And if you are working hard, being productive, and avoiding the uselessness of over-consumption, your net worth will likely increase, even if it’s slowed slightly by other types of real worth investments. Building skills, relationships, and community service are all examples of real worth growth.
Real worth impacts people. As a natural response to inherent value, we believe in investing time and money to try to improve other people’s lives. Jesus put it this way: “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:8). We’ve framed the idea of real worth as increasing your usefulness instead of your lifestyle. Additionally, it’s worth increasing your usefulness even if at times it’s at the expense of your net worth.
Real worth is helpful to anyone. Increasing your real worth could look like so many things. It could be volunteering, charitable giving, or spending time with friends. It could be getting involved in your church or practicing your faith in another way. It might look like mentoring youth or babysitting for a friend. It could be some type of activism that will make the world better for others. In fact, we believe it’s important to be useful in the local and global community, as well as within your family.
Trading Net Worth for Real Worth
We’ve made a number of decisions that have stunted our net worth growth, and I don’t regret any of them. For example, staying at home with our children has slowed our net worth for now, yet it’s 100% worth it to us.
Another decision that’s decreased our net worth while increasing our real worth (usefulness) is that we’ve always donated a minimum percentage of our income. We have in no way arrived as the generous people we hope to be, but this is a concrete example of investing resources away from our net worth. Though I also believe generosity can make us richer, even financially.
We’ve also foregone side-hustling in favor of volunteering and in the wake of having children. We’ve spent money—sometimes a lot—on travel, vacations, and retreats. We pay a weekly babysitter so that we can participate in our home church group. We’ve attended hundreds of social events like showers, weddings, birthday parties, and other outings. None of this has helped our net worth, but these relationships have added so much to our lives.
So next time you find yourself considering how to improve your net worth, take a moment to consider how you might also increase your real worth. Sometimes the two work beautifully in tandem, but don’t be surprised if at other times you have to make a trade-off.
Some of the material in the post was inspired by a Bible teaching. Check out the podcast here.
How have you found it worthwhile to build “real worth?” Have you ever faced a clear choice between building real & net worth?