Yesterday morning I was on my way to the airport to meet my buddy, Tim, who was on a 24-hour layover in Paris. Three seats in front of me, a guy sat down who looked exactly like Lionel Messi (arguably the greatest soccer player ever—not a fan of the game but the guy is an artist with a ball). He was a little plumper than the world's finest player and he definitely didn't have the boyish smile of the man with the golden boots. My first thought was of worth.
Everything has value in this world. How you measure that value is the tricky part. On paper, Messi is worth $240 million. That's a lot of dough. His profile is huge, he's treated like a god, and has cemented his place as one of the greats of all time. I'm sure he doesn't want for much and he definitely comes across humbler than the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo—soccer is a pretty ego-driven game. If Messi was on the train or at the airport or dropping his kids at school, chances are he'd be spotted and hassled for pics, etc, etc.
My chubbier Messi doppelganger riding the train on a Monday morning with a gloomy face has a completely different life however. He has to get up each day and go to work, probably to a job that does not fulfill his dreams or inspire him emotionally or creatively. He most likely has financial concerns like the rest of us and survives on a month to month basis getting by with what he has. It's easy to look at him and think he has accomplished nothing. Even worse, by today's crazy world standards he is not worth what Lionel Messi is worth. And that is the part that saddens me. Our benchmark is all wrong! There is an ideology that is drilled into us—at what age I can't remember—that we must succeed on a scale that can be quantified. Get the grades, the degree, the girl, the job, the house, the car, the bonus, the ski vacation, the pension plan, die. Our ability to deeply engage anything or anyone outside of this sphere of achievement slowly dies. I'm not saying we dash our plans to follow our dreams but to question at what price the dream comes at, or what the dream actually is. What I'm trying to say is we focus on what society and history tells us to focus on and lose what makes life truly spectacular; deep human connection. People are not apps and not disposable either.
As I sat talking to Tim at a café in the heart of Paris, I realized yet again, that our careers and personal achievements are not at all the glue that hold the friendship together. Sure, it makes for good conversation, but it's not the cornerstone. His worth (to me) is measured by how he serves others, his humility, and his encouragement of me. I know very few people like him who will put my personal success and contentment above their own. I'd rather be sitting with Tim any day of the week, or anywhere for that matter, than with someone who is famous or believes their achievements define them. It's not uncommon to demote a true and lasting friendship in favor of one we can use for the sake of hustling to better our own careers.
My wife read the following to me early this morning and it perfectly encapsulated how I feel.
“Better poor and humble than proud and rich.”
The guy on the train is worth something. In fact, he is everything to some people. Messi may be worth something to more people but the size of the group doesn't count. You are everything to many people who love you the way you are. Again, the size of that group doesn't count. It's better to have a small group of people who value your worth and character than a hundred who see you as a commodity. Don't bankrupt your own worth by using society's measuring stick.