I had this assignment when I was a kid in elementary school. We were reading about being a servant in ancient Rome. And to understand the concept, we were given a handout and told to write a couple of sentences putting a value on our own skills and abilities.
I wrote about how I was tall and creative and handy. The name of the assignment was called “What Am I Worth?”
Looking back now it is kind of a funny assignment title to give to a third grader. I still have my assignment but it has been many years since I reread what I wrote.
However, I have been thinking about that assignment lately. The title of it reverberates in my head. Over and over again I hear it. When I’m silent. Before I sleep and as I walk.
What am I worth?
The question hasn’t arisen completely unprompted. The series of events that have taken place in my life over the past 15 months really do seem to warrant such a question. And the only thing I have been able to come up with in this time is more questions.
Before I knew what I had to offer (which does not exclude this very moment) I thought my offering was making people laugh. Granted it is fair to say that it is also based in a need for attention. I have told jokes, poked fun, and been loud to draw attention to myself.
See? I have something to offer and it is this. Laughter and fun, that is me!
And that is how it has been for years. It is why I frequently joke with people the first time I meet them, it is how I break down boundaries. It is how I make friends. It is how I have presented my public persona even though all along I have known it wasn't all of me. I just wasn't sure how to show off the rest.
Nor did I know I didn't have to show off at all.
There is a quote I found many years ago in some trite little nightstand book about life and such that goes: “One who requires the attention of others has not yet found the attention of himself.”
That quote has always sat peacefully in the back of my brain. I was always just inches short of understanding it, even as I tried to play down its connection to myself, lying to myself.
I have started to reevaluate my life, myself, and the way in which I act. It has something to do with the people I have spent more time around.
Incredibly driven entrepreneurs who have created successful businesses from ideas, artists who have impacted thousands of people with little thought of failure, writers who have seen their words circle the world taking them along for the ride.
I have succeeded in gradually building up the amount of amazing, interesting, and dynamic people who surround me. And I have begun to wonder. How do I fit in?
What am I worth?
What am I worth? What are my skills? For what reasons do people value me? What is it that I offer? What do I contribute? What am I now contributing? What is it other people see when they look at me, when they talk to me? What do I bring to the table?
I know now it is not just laughter, it can’t be, and I don’t believe that it is. But as that has been my mantle for so long by the time I started asking myself those questions, I realized, I hadn’t really asked myself anything in a very long time.
I spend so much time looking elsewhere for the answers, in books, in movies, in the lives of others. Seeking solutions. Excuses. Failing to find external answers being far easier than never finding an internal reason.
And as I asked myself these questions I have grown confused and (more) insecure. I have felt the layers of myself pull back. Rolling back like dead onion skin. And bare beneath I feel sensitive, hesitant, unsure.
I carry these worries around like sacks on my soul, invisible to everybody but myself. I have created, I have shuffled, I have shipped. I have made noise while I do it, to let the world know I’m here, that I exist, that I should be paid attention to. Never really showing anything worth paying attention to. Never quite knowing why I need others to pay attention to me in the first place.
The reasons why I’m not quite where I thought I would be have always existed in other places. And there have always been reasons.
My mind has always sought the easiest answer and thus the easiest rationalization. I have justified things I don't have by blaming it on external factors I haven't been touched by or a set of experiences different than my own.
When I was younger I believed the reason was money. One day I would have enough money for everything to make sense. When I was a little bit older I thought it was confidence. One day I would be confident enough so everything would make sense.
At a certain point though, I realized it was something else all together. Something deeper, literally. Something that came from inside, more innate and significant that had to do with happiness of self. Something that, if nourished and given time, would manifest itself as the confidence that breeds money and success and all else that comes with it. But knowing that didn't make it any easier to find that thing. The absence or ignorance of which, had thus far defined my 20s.
I have successfully avoided all but the shallowest of internal excavation and introspection, saving my energies to spout reasoning and observations on the existence of others. Never taking the time to understand the insecurities that I have that guide most of all that I do.
I have filled my life with supposed wants, furniture and clothing and things, attempting to fulfill needs far more significant than I could understand.
As I continue to live my life, vacillating between the need for codependent relationships and borderline siloed independence, I am starting to realize, I know it’s neither of those things that I want exclusively. Yet still I struggle to figure out what, since the signposts between those territories are few and far between.
I continue to retread the same thoughts, and worries. Massaging them with my feet. Slow at sometimes. Faster at others. Hoping I am making a difference but never really feeling as such. As the same fears keep coming at me and I can process them at no faster a speed. Walking down an up escalator and calling it exercise.
It has been exhausting. I share this with the people closest to me. With strangers. With anybody willing to listen, hoping that somebody will free me from this suffocatingly thick air.
My close friends don't worry about me the same way I worry about myself. I know this because they tell me so. They tell me they know I will figure it out. That my talents and my spirit will overcome anything that comes my way. They have this incredible faith that no matter what, I will be OK.
It is that faith I seem to have lost somewhere along the way, if indeed I ever had it. Naiveté never deeming it necessary to let me see my own limits. A frighteningly beautiful allowance that has permitted me to accomplish things in my young life that I never could have, had I really understood anything I ever embarked upon.
But that belief, that trust, that everything is going to be OK no matter what is hard for me to reinvest in myself.
I have turned my eyes to the universe and its storied past of infinite wisdom. And I will attempt to put my faith in it. That no matter what happens, no matter how I feel about my own life, and regardless of whether or not I believe in free will, that as long as I continue to try, the universe will permit, predestine or allow for the creation of, a path through this life bringing me into the person I want to be.
But even that is a passive course.
So feeling at a loss for actions, behaviors, and ideas I have been grasping at everything. At metaphors. At reasons. At significance. Anything I can hold on to. To send my fingers out around and back again to my palm to let me know that I am safe. That the relationships, and life lessons, and life purpose worries that swirl within me are not completely unique. That I am secure. That I am OK. That I am normal.
Because for a while now, I haven't felt that way.
That assignment I did so long ago still exists somewhere, in a box, in my parents house, buried in the garage like a time capsule. But if I had to write it today how would I respond? What would my answers be? I can honestly say I don’t really know.
So I try to connect. Offering myself to friends. I don't know what my skills are or who I am. But take me. All that I am and all that I have to offer. I give myself to you. Lovingly. Openly.
Gratitude. That is the one thing I know I can control. I can be thankful and grateful and go out of my way to express that to the people around me. I can derive value and self worth from that. I can establish myself as somebody who is appreciative and lets it be known. Because I have so much to be thankful for.
And giving. I can be giving. I can give to my friends.
I will focus on gratitude, and I will focus on giving as much as I can to the people I love and the people that love me. And I will do that as long as I can, until I can figure out what it is my life is supposed to be.
And then I will do it some more.