Are You a Broken Man (or Woman)?

In an interview with The Record (3/13/08, p. 20), rabbi and author Shmuley Boteach warned readers that there’s much more to life than the pursuit of professional success — something that many entrepreneurs are obsessed with.

“The broken American male’s only criteria for success is professional success, how much money he makes, how many things he acquires, how far up the ladder he climbs. He is trained to be a lifelong competitor.”

Aside from being perhaps a tad materialistic, what’s wrong with that, you may ask?

Plenty, says Rabbi Boteach, because there is always someone higher up the ladder than you … and in comparison, you will always feel like a failure.

Our culture, he says, is not a circle where everyone is treated as equal, but a pyramid, where only men like Donald Trump and Bill Gates are at the top.

The broken American male “compares himself to them and he feels like a failure” … because in our society, money and power — not personal commitments — are the locus of our self-esteem.

Certainly, many of the “make money online” promoters play on the consumer’s inferiority complex.

Their online ads brag about their latest million-dollar home or $100,000 sports car — saying, in effect, “Gee, look how great I am; don’t you wish you could be me?”

I have found myself growing tired as of late of all the online bragging and boasting … and wishing these promoters didn’t have to build themselves up at others’ expense.

Do you measure your own self-worth mainly by money and achievement — and if so, do you ever beat yourself up for falling short?

Or do you enjoy a balanced sense of self, in which the kind of person you are is just as important as what you own or how much you make?


18 thoughts on “Are You a Broken Man (or Woman)?

  • Right now, as much as I hate to admit it, I do measure myself against others on the pyramid scale. Since I’m on the lower end, I do tend to take a more negative view of my worth.

    I tell myself that if I could get to the middle, everything would be just fine. I only wonder what I’ll think if, and when, I get there.

  • Whenever I see a John Chow ad boasting, in effect, “Don’t you wish you could be me?”, I just laugh.

    I always tell him, “Are you nuts? I’m too busy trying to overcome wishing I was Bob Bly!”

    That usually shuts him up.

    That said, I probably am as imbalanced and greedy as the next guy, but your point that it’s not my best feature is well taken.

  • When I worked in sales I skipped the monthly sales-bonus meetings because, frankly, I didn’t care which product would get me the bonus that month. I was going to sell my customers the best product for their particular need – company be damned. Incidentally, I was #1 in sales every single month because I simply met my customers’ needs with no pressure. Not once did I sell something for the money. I want enough money to pay my bills, keep a decent roof over my head, and take a little trip now and then. Beyond that, I’m not money-driven.

    Lately, I’ve only felt like a failure because I haven’t been out, enjoying life, enough. When I’m 85 years old, looking back on my life, I’ll be happy if I remember sitting in the woods in the mountains breathing fresh air. I won’t care one bit whether I made that extra $100.

  • Wouldn’t the world be a much better place for all if people weren’t so money-focused?

    How you treat your fellow living beings should be the ultimate judgement of self-worth.

  • This is a very interesting discussion and very profound – would be nice to meet up face to face and have a discussion over a few beers 🙂

    It’s a difficult balance: when your job is an integral part of your life like for many self-employed professionals, it’s difficult (not to say impossible) to draw a line between work and the rest of your life.

    I think it’s important to do whatever you do with passion – love your job and you’ll never work a day in your life.

    From a European point of view I do find the hyper competition in the name of money exaggerated. It’s all over the place in many blogs I read …

  • The kind of person you are is MORE important that what you own or what you make.

    Twelve years ago I was a bouncer at a popular dance club in my college town. One night a known drug dealer tried to slip me twenty dollars to get in the door ahead of everyone else.

    The night was freezing. The line was long. And, in college, twenty bucks used to go a long way. I told him to keep his money and get back in line.

    Now, plenty of people in my life have told me that I was stupid or I was an idiot. That I was (am) an idealist. But, in my opinion, there are some paths you start down without ever knowing it. Then one day you look around and realize you’re totally lost.

    I know plenty of unhappy rich people. I struggle daily with building my freelance writing business and questioning my confidence and self-worth. There is no question that, at any time, I could quit and go work for someone else. I could walk away from my dream and take the money.

    Then I think about that twenty.

    I was called stupid. I was called an idiot. I was even cussed at. But everyone in that line respected me and everyone that I worked with trusted me from that point on.

    Character is not a commodity which can be purchased. No entrepreneur wants to fail, but it’s just as important to understand your definition of success and what it may cost.

    If Donald Trump is your role model, Life just called. You’re fired!

  • The Rabbi is right. More, more, more is a rampant attitude.

    I applaud all of you for having the guts to answer this question, whichever side you landed upon. This is one of issues that people tend to use to pigeonhole someone: either a cold-hearted opportunist or an impractical fool.

    Even so, I guess it’s my turn to jump. 🙂 I don’t see myself as a “broken” person, and yes, at times, that is to my financial detriment. I have to admit my comfort zone is rather narrow; there are legitimate things I could do to further promote my business, but I just cannot consider doing them because they feel “icky” or just plain aren’t my style. On the other hand, keeping my business on the controlled-small side has not prevented me from having income. AND it gives me the freedom to be a mom first–which is why I work at home in the first place. It’s perhaps not a perfect balance, but it’s right for us.

  • Bob;

    As a Christian I have to admit that I am tempted to measure my success based on worldly “things.”

    However I always am reminded that they do not satisfy.I have learned that you need to be happy with your lot in life.


  • The perennial problem was best addressed a long time ago in a verse by John A. Joyce:

    You must leave your many millions,
    And the gay and festive crowd;
    Though you roll in royal billions,
    There’s no pocket in a shroud.

  • Bob – just “surfed” across this blog. I love your “Secrets..” book – it’s my bible – and this blog is great – thought provoking and comment-eliciting topics.

    Rabbi Shmuley has some great observations (interviewed him last year for an article – he’s a real straight shooter – no holding back on his views!!); and I agree with him here, with the operative word being “man” – male. Women seem to measure themselves by what they accomplish both in business and in their personal life.

    No I’m not bashing men; just my observations as a member of many professional organizations (incl. a few women only) and married to a business owner.

    Personally, if one area of my life isn’t where I think it should be I do consider I’ve failed – but it’s not a permanent failure. Yeah, I’d like to make more money and be as famous as Bob Bly but then some other part of my life would have to give. So it’s all a balancing act.

    If your life is all about making money and business success then in my opinion you have no life!

  • Your blog prompts me to paraphrase what Jesus taught about getting ahead.

    He said that a man’s worth does not consists of the things he possesses.

    This is as counter-culture today as it was then. But we came into the world with nothing except the life God gave us and leave and take nothing material with us when we die.

    Now, all I have to do is practice this truth. None of us will attain the level of achievement Jesus teaches on our own.

  • In the words of Confucius: ‘money won’t make you happy, but at least you can be miserable in comfort.’

    I detest all the get-rich-quick stuff online. I do what I do to earn a living, not make a killing. I do pretty well, but my ambitions don’t consist in simply upping the number at the bottom of my bank statement.

    So very few really wealthy people seem likeable or admirable. Warren Buffett is cool, perhaps because he doesn’t really flash his cash around, and Bill Gates has a certain nerdy charm. But so many of them are simply dull.

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