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How Much Are You Worth?
Separating personal worth and wages
Some reading this site are in a very unusual position -- you don't need to be
paid for your work. You might have sold a business, received an inheritance, or
earned and saved substantial assets. Whatever the reasons, we could live for a
few years -- or for the rest of our lives -- without earning more.
This freedom puts you in a special position to disentangle from social
pressures that equate good work with good money. Yet it is not so easy in a
society that places so much emphasis on earning power. Like it or not, pay (or
lack of it) may affect your feelings of self-worth and your judgments about the
worth of your work.
How might you separate your paychecks from your self-esteem? Here are
suggestions gleaned from our interviews:
IF YOU CHOOSE NOT TO BE PAID FOR YOUR WORK, you can take steps to feel
confident as a worker and to claim your unpaid accomplishments as real work.
These might include:
Get clear that you don't need earned income to live well. Determine your
current income, assets, and expenses as clearly as you can. Project future
expenses. Consider whether you would be better off (in terms of your
financial and psychological needs and values) with paid work. In other
words, make this choice with your eyes open.
Redefine work. Society says it's what we do for money that counts. You are
blazing a different path. Claim what you do that you value as your work.
Figure out how you want to describe your work to others.
Make your "volunteer" work as satisfying and worthwhile as you can. Build
in whatever daily systems of structure, support, affirmation you need. If
you are working as much as part-time or full-time staff, ask for an unpaid
Decide whose respect you really want and whose opinions you want to let go
of. You're not going to please everyone. Arrange for positive feedback
from those whose opinions count.
Give yourself credit for the skills you use in your unpaid work. Tell your
friends what you are enjoying and what you are proud of in your work.
However, if you still feel financially insecure, we encourage you to build
greater confidence (through more paid work experiences) in your earning
IF YOU DECIDE TO BE PAID FOR YOUR WORK, your challenges may include determining
what compensation you want, and keeping a sense of perspective about the
importance of money. Steps you might take include:
Validate your right to be paid, even though the money won't go to pay
bills. Compensation can increase the legitimacy and respect you gain from
others. It can increase your self-confidence and lessen your reliance on
accrued assets. It opens up your options by increasing or preserving your
assets -- including the option to give more away. At the same time,
consider whether you (and the world) might be better off if you devoted
yourself to unpaid work. In other words, let being paid be a choice, not
an assumption, one made with your eyes open.
Get a clear sense of what the "market rate" is for your skills and
experience. Ask others; research. Then ask yourself if being paid market
rate is really the right choice for you. What affects your decision?
If you don't need the earned income for your daily needs and comfort,
allow yourself to imagine creative alternatives to "standard" pay. Are you
working with low-budget organizations struggling to do great work in the
world? You might donate your salary (openly or anonymously) back to the
organization, or use your salary to fund another staff position, or work
for less than market rate. If you are working with high-budget
organizations that can easily afford your pay, you might advocate for as
much pay as you can get, and then donate your salary to shoe-string groups
you care about.
Validate the importance of your unpaid roles (e.g. friend, parent,
neighbor) -- talk about them with others, as you do your paid work. Honor
the value of the unpaid (or less well-paid) work done by others. Notice
and contradict prejudices which equate earnings with value.
Adopted from More Than Money, a quarterly journal published by and for people
with wealth. Each issue is filled with personal stories, practical ideas, and
humor, focusing on a particular theme. For more information, email:
email@example.com; or call (800) 255-4903.
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