The Man in the Mirror: Reflections on Self-Love and True Wealth

Michael Jackson’s touching memorial was a testimony to how loved he was by so many people.  1.2 million people from around the world applied for the “ticket lottery,” and millions more viewed what they could by television and internet.  Celebrities and family members paid their tributes in touching words and music.  The media coverage and attention dwarfed all other stories.

Scarcely has anyone been so popularly loved as Michael Jackson, his popularity even surviving controversy, accusations, and questions brought on by molestation charges.  When many people look at Michael Jackson, they see a huge success, a tremendous talent, and a man loved by millions.  Many who knew him saw a true friend.  His daughter, Paris, saw “the best dad ever.”

But what did Michael Jackson see when he looked in the mirror?

I was struck by the obvious in the photos, videos and parade of internet slideshows – the immense changes made to the structure of Michael’s face, skin and hair over the decades, as he became almost unrecognizable from the boy we once knew.  (One comedian remarked, “Only in America can a black boy grow up to be a white woman.”)
The contrast has been made even more profound by comparing Michael’s photos with recent pictures and video of his family members, the people to whom he once bore such a resemblance to.

I can only conclude that, on some level, Michael saw a man unacceptable to himself.  Someone who needed to be fixed, changed, even destroyed or made to disappear.


Interestingly, I found that although Michael Jackson wrote 17 of his mega-hits, he didn’t write “Man in the Mirror” (one of my favorite Jackson songs, it was penned by Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett). The video to “Man in the Mirror” was also a departure, featuring only one brief “where’s waldo” image of Michael Jackson himself, donning a red jacket in a crowd.

Perhaps Michael could not have written the song, and perhaps the irony was too great to see Jackson’s face-in-flux proclaiming “take a look at yourself and make a change.”  Still, the song proclaims a simple yet profound truth:

Change begins with us.

Do we long for an end to war? It would be invevitable in a world filled with people of inner peace.

Do we wish for abundance? It would happen naturally in a world of people who understood the value of each and every person.

Are we committed to “let love rule” on earth as it is in heaven? It would be unavoidable in a world of people who loved themselves.

Do we want to transform the economy? One person can hardly make a dent.  But millions of individuals?  Together we can and do make a difference.  As Biznik co-founder Dan McComb is fond of saying to independent entrepreneurs, “What the economy needs now is for you to succeed.”

The Money Mirror: A reflection of our self-worth?

We like to think of money as this thing outside of us, this thing that can save us or victimize us, bless us or curse us, deliver our dreams or keep us from them.  We give power to it (while imagining ourselves helpless), we love it, we resent it, we woo it, blame it, covet it, rail against it.

What we might not see is how money is a reflection of our relationship with ourselves.

Look in the money mirror – what reflection do you see?

Do you self-sabotage?  You’ll sabotage yourself with money.

Are you good at self-care?  You’ll use money in a caring way, taking care of your needs and providing for your future.

Do you have trouble looking out for yourself and setting boundaries?  You’ll give money away even when you can’t afford to.

Do you lack the confidence to pursue your dreams?  You might make sure you can never quite “afford” to pursue them.

You see, money is never “just” about money. It’s an external indication of what is going on “underneath the surface.”

Just as the relationships around us can be used to fulfill our biggest dreams and worst fears (are we loved or alone?  Admired or abused?), so we can manipulate money to create self-fulfilling prophecies.  (Are we thrivers or strivers?  Do we soar or struggle?)

And as interested as I am in the results people get with their money, I know that we won’t be very successful in changing our finances without first changing ourselves.

The best news?  As we change the underlying factors, learning to

shift our self-talk,
grow our confidence,
develop our boundaries,
give in the spirit of true contribution,
and treat ourselves with kindness and respect, truly loving ourselves,

we’ll change a lot more than just our money.  Everything else will change, too.  Everything!


Sometimes we try to change our money without changing ourselves.  Without a change in our beliefs or motivation, budgets are about as effective as diets.  Perhaps you’ll see some short-term improvements, but typically all ground gained will soon be lost.  It’s a bit like tearing the apples off of an apple tree and stapling on oranges… not very effective.

Without changing the roots, you can’t change the fruit permanently, only temporarily.

Like my friend George Huang says, one of the reasons he left plastic surgery to become a conscious business coach was that he was weary of transforming people on the outside while they often remained unhealed on the inside. For some patients, no amount of reconstructive or cosmetic surgery could make them acceptable to themselves.

Interestingly enough, addicts of Diprivan or Propofol (the drug Jackson had administered so that he could sleep) say they seek this drug to “disappear,” “escape,” or “not exist” even moreso than to help them sleep.

Perhaps Jackson could never make peace with the man in the mirror for the same reason he couldn’t sleep at night: he did not have peace within himself. Unhealed and unreconciled within himself, both the image in the mirror and his own conscious existence remained burdens for him.

Two Kinds of Wealth

I have come to believe there are two kinds of wealth:
1) true wealth that is an expression of a person’s worth, the worth that they feel and “own,” which is also a reflection of the contribution they make to others, and
2) the wealth that is used to compensate for a missing sense of “worth.”  This second kind of “wealth” may look the same on the outside, but is actually a substitute, a cover-up for a lack of worth felt on the inside.

Perhaps this explains why someone with Jackson’s phenomenal success and savvy (he had the wisdom to buy some of the rights to The Beatles song catalog) only narrowly escaped foreclosure and died with debts of hundreds of millions of dollars.  (I repeat, hundreds of millions in debt!)

Michael Jackson gave and received so much through his contribution of entertainment, but he also spent lavishly and beyond what he could afford.  Though ultimately solvent due to his tremendous assets, even the King of Pop, with all his royalties and some of the Beatles’ as well, couldn’t live within his means.


If you wanna make the world a better place… Start with your mirror.

The next time you look at yourself over the bathroom vanity or see your reflection in a window, check it out.  You… perfect, whole and complete, just the way you are. Be sure to connect with the eyes looking back at you.  Smile and say hi.  Gaze at yourself with kindness.  Remember to say how much you love yourself.  You don’t need to be fixed or changed.  From a place of self-acceptance and self-love, you are in the perfect starting place to build true wealth.

Michael sang in “Childhood,” “Before you judge me, try hard to love me.”  I don’t know if Michael was able to take his own advice.  Yes, many in the world gave him a hard time, but rarely were they mocking Michael himself.  They were only mirroring his own lack of acceptance, mocking the ways he kept “fixing and changing” himself.  From a beloved and talented public figure to a National Enquirer oddity, the boy from Gary, Indiana never gave himself the love and acceptance that his family, friends, and millions of fans did.

Love starts in the mirror.  Love begins with us.

Michael, may you finally rest in peace.  You were always beautiful.


3 thoughts on “The Man in the Mirror: Reflections on Self-Love and True Wealth

  1. Nancy Hellstrom

    This is an excellent article, Kate. It’s a sobering look at the truth, and I know this to be true from my own experience. It’s the good news AND the bad news. Therein lies the solution.

  2. George C. Huang, M.D.

    I love how you tied in MJ with unconditionally loving what one sees in the mirror.

    Reminds me of how I used you in a role play during the Rapid Revenue Acceleration for Conscious Entrepreneurs workshop to tell the story of one of my patients who came to see me years ago….

    ..she had a barely visible, pale trace of a narrow scar from scraping branches. She was insistent about getting rid of scar.

    Again, it was barely perceptible, even to my trained eye.

    There wasn’t much to do for it. So, when she came back a second time to see me about getting rid of the scar, I asked her why she was running through bushes. She then told me she was running away from a boyfriend.

    Eureka! She associated the scar with that bad experience. So, what she saw in the mirror wasn’t the barely visible scar, but an entire emotional recreation of that traumatic experience.

    How many of us are driven, in one way or another, not by “what really happened,” but instead, by our own emotional and mental interpretation of what happened and our fears that we attach to it?

  3. Bryan Rust

    When troubled teenagers suffer from crippling self-image problems, they are known to engage in the act of ‘cutting’ or scarring themselves. MJ’s bizarre facial restructuring always struck me as a post-adolescent version of cutting, trying to atone for some self-perceived unworthiness.
    I didn’t think there was anything left for anyone to say on this subject, but you pulled off the impossible. Thanks for a fabulous and moving article!