What Are You Worth?

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How much are you worth?

Did that question feel strange? Did it make you happy? Did you think of an amount of money?

I wrote a post about charging for your work that made people ask this question.

It’s a question that really only has one answer, even though right now you don’t believe me. Which is why I have a story. The story is a deep insight into what value truly is and how we assign it.

And it starts, with a Nazi.

Hermann Wilhelm Goering was a world class scumbag. His nickname was “Blue Max” and not only did he have a hand in the atrocities committed against the Jewish people, but he openly admitted to organizing the killing of at least 85 of his own soldiers. An act that Hitler himself admitted was “entirely illegal“.

But Goering had another side. He, along with many of the Nazi elite, had a special love for art. He desperately wanted to rival the collection of his leader and there was a piece missing.

He needed a Vermeer.

Johannes Vermeer was a famed Dutch painter, who is today recognized as one of the greatest painters who lived during the Dutch Golden Age. Today there are only 34 paintings attributed to him, but there was one attributed to him that changed history.

It was The Woman Taken in Adultery. A story from the Bible. A snapshot of history. A painting that the criminal, Goering wanted, and Han van Meegeren had one. Goering made a trade for 200 original Dutch paintings that had been taken by the Nazis at the beginning of the war. He offered them for this one missing piece that would elevate his status as an art collector to that of the fuhrer. The paintings traded equaled many millions of dollars and a treasure of original Dutch art considered lost. It was a perfect trade and the end of the story.

Except. . .

Both men were arrested and tried, with the possible sentence of death, Goering for his immeasurable atrocities to human kind, and van Meegeren for treason, due to interacting in business with the enemy.

At one point, Goering valued the painting at millions of dollars, but at his trial it was merely a tool by which to take down van Meegeren.

During the same time, van Meegeren valued the painting at millions of dollars, but at the trial it was worth more than his life.

Until . . .

The truth finally came out. Van Meegeren admitted that is was nothing but a forgery that he himself had painted. He explained that, not only was he not treasonous, but he was a national hero because he had traded a worthless canvas, to a hideous Nazi for some of his homelands prized artistic possessions. He said that if he was given a brush, a canvas, paint, alcohol and morphine he could replicate the painting with ease, which he did. The Nazi was sentenced to death and the forger was set free.

And the truth about value is etched in history.

The value of the painting changed with what it could do. At one point it was a worthless piece of canvas. At another, a multi-million dollar masterpiece and, at yet another, it was literally a lifesaver.

So the truth is that value is a story. It is what people think when they drink expensive wine, not how the wine tastes. It is how we feel in an old shirt, not what we paid for it. It is the amount of time we will work, in order to go on vacation. Value is not fact or fiction. It is not true or false. It is a belief,

and belief is contagious.

What you think of yourself spreads to those around you. What you do for others tells the story of who you are. What you become frames the value you give yourself and the value others assign. If value is a story, then you are the author. Which makes the question at the beginning much easier to answer.

How much are you worth?

The one true answer; as much as you decide.

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