How to Dictate Your Own Worth

Self worth is a league above monetary worth. Yet, salaries obviously matter. If that caveat resonates, read on — this is my evolution story about this touchy topic.

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There is a popular maxim “To earn your worth, negotiate your value”

This runs counter to my experience. My line would read:

“To earn your worth, do your homework about others and remember to ask.”

Here is my break down.

Lesson 1: The School of Hard Knocks

I still remember the place where I stood. I was young man, just out of his teens, living in Chennai, India (called Madras then) and my grand uncle — my father’s elder sister’s husband — with his characteristic locks of white hair, was about to get into the car.

He took one look at my pensive face and asked, “What is working in your mind?”

Due to unfortunate circumstances, I had to sell a family business at the time.. Luckily, I had a buyer. But I also had a “worth” problem to which many of you can relate.

I told my uncle, “I do not know how much money I should ask for?”

And my uncle’s simple answer was a revelation…

“how much can the buyer afford?”

The power of that moment has been a guiding light ever since, during the big ticket monetary decisions — salaries, consulting fees…. you name it.

More than anything, it has given me a better perspective. Here is why.

Take a new job negotiation or asking for a raise as examples.

At the heart of it, we are trading our time and intellectual capital for monetary compensation. That is ‘our’ side of the story.

In moments when we perceive our stakes to be high — much like what I faced twenty years ago — our natural instinct is to become inwardly focused and emotionally convoluted.

But my uncle’s words that day were the catalyst for a true paradigm shift — how much the buyer can afford?

A great question!

The real question, in fact, but how do we find the answer?

Not with my friend’s approach, I can assure you. We’ll call him Parker.

Lesson 2: Art of Comparison

When I met Parker, early in 2017, he was happy with his job.

He excelled at his position, and had every reason to believe he was valued.

When I met again recently, he was sober.

What happened?

He discovered what a co-worker in a similar role was paid.

Parker had projected and negotiated his own salary using his previous base, with a modest pop — the natural result of inwardly focused thinking.

One way to avoid this trap is to borrow a great concept from finance — market comparable.

In a meeting with a recruiter, it can go something like this:

Company Recruiter, “How much do you make currently?”

Your answer, “My research for ABC position online indicates that pay range is between X and Y. Is that the right market comparable?”

Market comparable is great starting point, but there is something bigger.

Lesson 3: Remember to ask

Sounds simple, right? It actually isn’t for most.

But life is about choices. We can either make these choices ourselves, or avoid them altogether and adapt to whatever comes our way.

The choice is always ours.

Here is an inspiring underdog story to help illustrate.

In 2007, Lori Goler was working in the Marketing division at eBay.

She knew about Sheryl Sandberg’s move to Facebook and, although Lori had met her at a few events, she didn’t know Sandberg very well.

She took a risk, and cold-called Sheryl.

And Sheryl picked up the phone.

Today, Lori is the head of HR at Facebook.

I certainly saved the best for last.

Isn’t that a great story? Not only does it illustrate the third and final lesson beautifully — it showcases one example where a person picked up the phone because you called.

In this world, the odds of that is low. On the positive side, all you need is one! Is it 1 in 10, 1 in 100 or 1 in 1000? That depends on luck and more importantly — your homework.

Today is a great day to start — for that one change, for that one career-changing call, for that one email, for that one nudge up.

Bringing it all together, here is how you can dictate your worth:

  1. You should not be worth less than someone is able to pay you.
  2. You are worth as much as (or more than) what the market is paying.
  3. You are always worth someone’s time and consideration.

If you make positive choices, and know your worth when it matters…

You’ll be just fine.


P.S. Just because something sounds simple, it is not, necessarily easy. Especially when it surrounds monetary compensation. So, I wrote it down for reading reinforcement in the form of stories through time. This write-up is a personal journal entry that I read before key moments. My hope is that it is useful to you as well.

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Stories to fuel your mind. Theme: life’s hidden treasures in plain sight. Goal: Warm tone, solid content, crisp stories. About me: one google search away.

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