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You’ll Never Get Paid What You’re Worth (and That’s OK)

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You and I have fallen under the sway of a misled idea: that in order to advance our careers, we must persuade people to recognize our worth and then convince them to pay it. When negotiating salary or figuring out what to charge for a service, the first question we often ask ourselves is: What am I worth?

But that question disempowers you.

It calls into question something personal that goes beyond the actual value of your skill or service. There’s also a dangerous connotation — particularly for women — that links price with love or acceptance. (“If you like me, you’ll pay what I’m asking. If you don’t, you must not like me because I’m not good enough.”) It’s a slippery slope and ineffective.

Instead, the question to ask is: “What are my products or services worth to this person right now?” In other words, what will the market bear?

For years I struggled to reconcile what I thought I was worth with what I was getting paid. At one point, all I wanted was $40K. I believed that was where I needed to be and that I was worth it (damn it). It killed me when the company told me they couldn’t do it. I went down the rabbit hole: Am I not worth that?

The magazine was in the red! They couldn’t pay the bills! It had nothing to do with me. And I needlessly made it harder on myself.

The turning point for me was a recent episode of my show Solopreneur. I interviewed Ilise Benun, founder of Marketing Mentor, who has been helping creative professionals go into business for themselves for more than two decades. “My clients always ask me, ‘Why can’t I convince people to pay me what I’m worth?’” says Benun. “This is the wrong question, because it sets this up as a pricing problem, which it isn’t. It’s a marketing problem, and it has a marketing solution.”

The key, says Benun is to separate what you do for other people from what it means about you. In other words, take your ego out of it. This blew my mind, and the doors off everything I used to think about rates and salary.

It was also a huge relief because I’ve spent too much time worrying that either I wasn’t worth much, or I was so good no one could afford me. “The conflation of personal worth with professional acumen is also very childish,” adds Benun. The “love me daddy” approach to winning business infantilizes you — it treats the proposal (or salary or raise) like an allowance, one that you “deserve” because you were a good girl. Ick.

Don't use worth as a determiner of value or price. Your true worth doesn’t have a price, so stop wasting time trying to appraise it.

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