I know my worth, and I haven’t always been able to say that.

My value isn’t in the external. My value is the man I am inside. It’s my ability to grow and to change, my enormous capacity for love, my supportive and encouraging nature, a generally positive outlook, and a tenacity in achieving my goals.
There have been times in my life when I’ve lost sight of these attributes. It happens to all of us. We get sidetracked with careers or goals or other ambitions. We work to climb the corporate ladder, get a bigger house or a nicer car of whatever else it is that motivates us.

Today, I’m thinking a lot about my worth and value, and I’ve been reminded that I’m doing things right. Oddly enough, the reminder that I’m doing things right is that there are some challenges to navigate.

I made a conscious decision several months ago to change some things in my life. And while I got thrown some curveballs in the process, I know how to navigate the temporary frustrations to get to where I know I want to go.

It’s almost funny to look at myself in the mirror and recognize this attitude. I lost it a while ago, and it took me doing some things for and by myself to regain this confidence. But seeing it here, I can easily fall back on my experiences to know how and why I feel this way.

Not that long ago, I had a successful career working for the Federal Govt. I was married, had a young son, a house, a yard, an honest-to-god picket fence, and a dog. I had two cars in the driveway, and I was putting myself through college. I was living a kind of American Dream, but it wasn’t _mine._ Still, I’m proud of what I was able to accomplish at that point. It’s amazing, thinking back on it.

But I had the courage to take a leap of faith and pursue a very different dream. As my marriage dissolved, I moved to California for grad school. I got an MFA in creative writing, began a new career as a college professor, and moved to a rural mountain-top retreat. When I was immersed in the earlier married life, there’s no way I could Have forecast the life that was waiting for me. I’d have scoffed if you’d told me I could have the life I’m living now.

And right now, the life I have is so much happier than anything I could have imagined. On the way here, I’ve had a lot of turns, and I have to say they’re positive, because they lead me to this point. There were periods in which I wanted for nothing materially. I lived with a multimillionaire and by all accounts had no worries. But I wasn’t fulfilled. It’s nice to not have to worry about some things, but if I’m unhappy or lonely, what’s the point of that lack of material worry? I’ve also been on the other end of that spectrum, struggling to make ends meet. While the latter can be challenging, it’s really more of a temporary frustration.

I know how to get back out in front, having done it a couple times in my life already. It’s easier when I know what I want and what I won’t compromise.

And that confidence comes from my childhood. We mimic what we see, And we’re comfortable when we find things that recall our formative experiences. My family is deeply flawed, but I never doubted that I as loved. In fact, love was the foundation of everything we had. We were dirt poor, but I didn’t know that. I worked with my dad in the garden every day. We went fishing and hunting and camping. My mom was always cooking and canning and baking. My parents read me stories every night.

There was no TV, so we played games. During the days, I was outside. I was active and encouraged to be creative. And when my parents separated, they ended up getting remarried to each other a few months later.

I learned that material things are nice, but they don’t last. What matters are the people in our lives; genuine people who care and support. I learned the pleasure of giving that care and support in return.

  • I learned to value real, personal interaction.
  • I learned to value forgiveness.
  • I learned to value love, both giving and receiving it.
  • I learned to value hard work and perseverance.
  • I learned to value connection.
  • I learned to value working together.
  • I learned to value growth.

All those things that I loved were the product of us not having alternatives. We gardened because we couldn’t afford to go to the grocery store for everything. Mom cooked the way she did and canned to stretch things longer. We bonded because we couldn’t afford distractions. And we relied on each other because what mattered most …what we truly valued, and knew would last… were the bonds we shared.

The truth is that there always will be challenges to face. What matters is not letting ego or pride get in the way of leaning on the people who genuinely care about me. What matters is showing up and being present. What matters is my positive attitude and belief that things will always work out for the best; that challenges are temporary. What matters is staying open and loving and supportive. What matters is keeping this great big heart vulnerable and open both to giving and to receiving the love it deserves.

Life is hard sometimes, but I’m up to the challenge. I’ve worked hard to be able to say that. And I feel good being able to recognize the man I truly am. I may have challenges to face and overcome, but there is joy and strength in doing the hard work necessary to do just that. So today, I’m grateful when there are struggles. It means I’m doing things right, and I’m on the right path. My eyes are open, and so is my heart. And I’m proud of who and what I am.

Robert F. James is a lecturer in creative writing at San Jose State University. He’s been a professional writer his entire adult life, and his writings primarily focus on the challenges of modern masculinity. He lives on a small hobby farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, where he raises chickens, rabbits, and ducks while managing a small garden. He’s been a Sailor, a pastor, a television and radio personality, and a professional piercer. His eclectic background lends itself to an exploratory aspect of his writing. His work is an authentic reflection of the issues he puzzles over on a daily basis, and he spends a good deal of time outdoors to process them. A large herd of deer on the property seem to respond favorably to his ramblings.