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NO WAY! I'm Worth Lots More Than That!

a hand outstretched waiting for money from another person

How often have you heard yourself or others vent resentfully about a pay rate you deemed insulting?

“I know I’m worth way more than that,” you say.

But secretly you may begin to wonder, “What am I really worth?”

Now don’t get me wrong, exploitive employers certainly do exist. History is rampant with them. They’re bent on extracting the most for the least they can pay.  And while the economic hardship of the past few years may have lent force to the miserly admonition, “Just be thankful you’ve got a #$@ job”, these are not the employers for whom healthy, competent, and ambitious people want to work.

But good, even great employers abound. These employers pay from decently to very well. They invest in and train their employees and they grow their businesses by growing their best employees into ever greater responsibilities and rewards.

Let’s then set aside for the moment that external range of possible pay rates. Let’s tackle, head-on, the often frightening, sometimes anguishing inner calculation, “What am I really worth?”

The first thing to grasp (and to hang on tightly to) is that the difficulty, fear, and anguish arise from the utterly bogus premise of the question. Recall the old joke about the prosecutor demanding of the defendant, “When did you stop beating your wife, Mr. Smith”.

The question itself guarantees a bad outcome for you.

Why? Because it conflates or fuses together and presents as one thing two different and incompatible worlds. It presents the immediate, intimate, mental, emotional world of your inner personhood and character, (he or she whom you consciously know to be “the real you”), and the numerical abstractions of the world of money which are used to mediate the trade of eggs for bricks, bricks for teeth-pulling and so on as if they are one and the same thing.

They are not.

But once the question, “What am I really worth,” fuses them together as one, indistinguishable “thing” in our minds, we are left to agonize over an unresolvable conflict. We’re doomed to “measure” each world by the values of the other—and usually come up short.

To wit: Our sense of self-worth may recoil or inflate when it perceives a dollar value being assigned to it by the marketplace; likewise, our financial success may suffer or bloom under the reign of unexamined, self-defeating beliefs or the command of a healthy and engaged self-image.

So, how do we sort this out? How do I separate what I’m really worth from what I’m really worth?

Step one should be clear enough by now: We first have to untangle and separate the two worlds in our own minds. We must train ourselves to be mindful of both and to stay rigorously, consciously within the bounds of the one we’re considering at any given moment. We must refuse to re-fuse the two worlds as we think it through.

Let’s first—for the purposes of this discussion—dispose of the infinitely more important of the two worlds. That would be your personal existence, risen as consciousness here on the planet, for a brief span, in all its mystery, richness, pain, suffering, loves, losses, gains and glories. 

Stick a price tag on that, baby!

Obviously, you can’t. The very idea is absurd.

So let’s pick up the question of worth, now, in the other world, the “real” one (according to those who insist they know). By which of course they mean the knock-down, drag-out, marketplace of a world in which most of us have to compete to make a living.

The calculus here is much simpler, cleaner, and devoid of the power to inflict judgment upon your immortal soul.  Here we transform the self-defeating question, “What am I really worth,” into an immensely useful tool for personal growth by reframing it altogether:

“What will the market pay for the skills it perceives me to possess, from which it believes it can profit?”

Instantly the question is no longer about you, about your “value” as a person, but rather it’s about two very different fields of factual or objective information. One is the market. The other is the skillset you can convince the market you have.

You have absolutely no control over the former and therefore no responsibility for it. It is, however, the environment in which your skillset must compete.

You have almost exclusive control over the latter and therefore the continuous opportunity to improve your potential compensation. You can acquire new skills, enhance your persuasion skills (i.e., do a better job at convincing the market on what you can already do), or advance on both fronts.

But the point is that by reframing the self-defeating question into an empowering one you seize the ability to analyze both the market and your skillset to determine your own path to a better future.

Five Guidelines

Fully analyzing the market and the skillset, you can convince it you have, is too big a job for this post. But we can briefly explore five helpful guidelines for thinking it through.

1.    Customers create jobs.
       a.    If no one in your market is buying (through whatever intermediating industry, business, or governmental entity) your particular skillset then that skillset is            worthless in that particular market.
       b.    If everyone in your market is buying your particular skillset (through whatever intermediary), then dollar value of that skillset will rise or fall according to its’    availability. The larger the pool of people with your skillset, the less the skillset will pay (because market will find the lowest price for the quality it requires).
2.    Markets can be local. Your skillset may be worthless here but lucrative there. (Twenty-two year-old hauling dirt in the current Nevada gold rush earns $60,000 year.)
3.    Markets are brutally ruthless. They do not care about you; they care only about what you can provide at a cost at which they can make a profit. When your skillset is  obsolete (or the goldmines are exhausted) the market won’t continue paying you for that skillset.
4.    Skillsets are paid according to their ability to create more value than they cost.
5.    Skillsets generally pay according to their capacity to leverage other assets—tools, equipment, and other-people’s skillsets—into a product or service that can be sold to a customer.

The next time you begin agonizing over the self-defeating question, “What I am really worth” catch yourself, and reframe it altogether. The real question, the empowering question, is “What will the market pay me for the skills I have?”

If those skills are obsolete or unneeded in your locale you won’t get a job with them. If they are needed but common, or they can’t leverage tools, equipment, or other people’s skills to create saleable valuable for prospective employers in your area, then they won’t pay particularly well.

But if you acquire and develop the skills and education that best leverages your native talents and passion into the sustainable and agile ability to help others create value in the market place, you will prove to be “worth a lot more” than you might have believed possible.

John Erwin
Workforce Outreach Coordinator