Self-worth has never been my strong suit.
I recognize that, ironically, it’s never entirely been under my control. Both of my parents suffer from chronic depression and anxiety disorders, and I won the genetic lottery. I saw both of my parents in states that can only be described as “non-functional,” and that’s before I even hit double digits in age.
When my parents got divorced, I was eight. At that point, I had one of two options: remain blissfully ignorant of my life exploding around me in a cataclysmic fashion, or brace for what would invariably be years of petty litigation between two people I thought loved each other.
I chose to forge headfirst into a grotesque and unsightly new reality, which meant for all intents and purposes, my childhood was over. I no longer had the luxury of developing my own self-esteem. I resigned myself to picking up the pieces every what felt like endlessly apocalyptic fights between my parents.
Growing up in the middle of an overwhelmingly antagonistic divorce for me meant a constant internal struggle of which “side” was in the right. I lived with both parents separately, at different times, for different reasons. Weeks passed where I would hate — as much as any 13-year-old can hate — one parent or the other for what felt like world-shattering offenses.
I gained a lot of weight in my adolescence, and at the time, I felt that made me worth even less. My classmates and peers were talking about going on rigorous hikes that, for me, were physically impossible. I didn’t fit in any social circles.
It didn’t help matters that, after the divorce, neither of my parents had very much money. Try as she might, my mom couldn’t afford to get us the latest and greatest. I was always late to the party, as it were.
By the time I had saved up for a few packs of Pokémon cards, everyone had moved on to Magic: The Gathering. By the time I’d managed to grab some Magic Cards, it was all about having an iPod. When I finally got an iRiver MP3 player for Christmas, everyone was talking about their new cell phones.
As I trudged through the quagmire of adolescence into the uncertainty of young adulthood and college life, I had to figure out what I was going to do for the rest of my life.
It certainly didn’t help that I had ostensibly lost all but one of my friends during my senior year of high school. It’s funny how priorities change once all your supposed “mates” are trying to date your sister.
Nevertheless, a brief internship with a mortuary in high school had given me a sense of purpose. I still had bad days, fantasizing about simply disappearing into the ether to escape the emotional minefield of existence, but I finally had something to call my own. I didn’t have to be a soldier in my parents’ never-ending war with each other.
I started at Weber State University in 2009, fresh out of high school, still smelling like teen spirit. I paid for it with the part time jobs I could get as a scrappy 17-year-old and supplemented the rest with any grants and loans I could get my hands on.
Admittedly, I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have. I was still shaking off the high school mentality that said, “this is temporary.” It took me a few semesters to pull myself together and use the $3,000 per semester in earnest.
Seven years of work and school later and I’m 18 credit hours deep in the last semester of my bachelor’s degree. More importantly, I’m unemployed.
My wife, who is the single most important person in my life, has forbidden me from gainful employment. 18 credit hours and a host of extra-curricular activity means I have very little time not focused on academia. To be perfectly honest, with the boundless inconsistency of my schedule, even I likely wouldn’t hire me.
Therein, as the Bard would tell us, lies the rub. I recognize that I’m buried in homework, writing, video production and copy editing for this very publication.
Everything I do now — my wife insists, unceasingly positive — I do for the betterment of our future. Why then, do I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt over my utter lack of financial contribution?
It’s not about gender roles. My wife has an amazing career she worked incredibly hard to obtain, and I have no qualms over her making more money than I do. She’s a brilliant, beautiful woman and I’m so incredibly proud of her.
Ladies: there’s nothing wrong with being the bread-winner in the relationship. Gentlemen: don’t feel emasculated, feel gratified; you have a strong intelligent partner and she chose you.
It’s certainly not because of my wife. She’s nothing but supportive, encouraging me with daily affirmations that I’m doing the right thing. Did I mention my wife is an outstanding human being?
We’re not hurting for money. My wife makes enough to get us by, without the need for hours of overtime. We’re not starving or living paycheck to paycheck. We make sure we’re budgeting appropriately and have a savings in case of emergency.
The reason I feel so tremendously guilty is because of that little voice in my head telling me I’m not worth it. My insidiously omnipresent companion, always listening, ready to whisper vitriolic nagging doubts into my ear. From my earliest memory, to writing the words you’re reading now, nothing I do has ever been good enough for me.
But I haven’t stopped trying.
I am worth it. I’m worth the effort. I’m worth the struggle, blood, sweat and tears. I’m worth the sleepless nights writing 15-page papers and classes so early I question whether this degree is worth a few hours of sleep.
And so are you.
You’re worth every moment you spend in pursuit of higher education. You’re worth every dollar spent on tuition and textbooks. You’re worth every hour you spend in a job you hate just to pay for one more semester.
Don’t let anyone, especially yourself, tell you otherwise.