How Do You Value Yourself?

I have a situation in my work life, which I can’t elaborate on here, but which got me pondering about the value of people and their contributions to the world. You see, I live in the work of IT consulting, where we essentially rent people out by the hour and in so doing, puts an approximation on their value to the company and the customer. If the customer pushes us to reduce our hourly rate, what does that say about their perception of the value of that person’s services?

You see, for much of my adult life, I’ve been a person who was very driven by my work. Being experienced and senior, and being able to draw high rates and provide significant value to customers was a significant driver of my self-esteem. So, when these types of work things happen, it leaves me pondering just a bit about my own personal value. After all, dollars and cents are easy to judge. Other things, not so much.

Now, I’m educated enough (and have done enough therapy) to realize that my contributions to the world are more than just dollars in the revenue column. But those other sources of value are intangibles and let’s face it, if you’re doing low-level work and drawing low rates, it has an impact on the future of your career. So, it left me puzzling a bit over the whole thing and also thinking in a broader sense about how we as a society define the value of people.

For example, nurses and teachers, who directly impact our most vulnerable citizens, draw very low salaries. What they do is vitally important to all of us, at some of the most critical moments of our lives. So I guess that’s an argument that value can’t be judged by money.

At the same time, rock stars and baseball players draw huge salaries and I personally could care less about most of them. So I guess that’s not a good measure of value either.

Mother Theresa touched thousands of lives and never made a dime herself. Again, another example of how your value can’t be measured in salary or financial rewards.

So, all of that said, how do we measure our value? By our contributions? By how we live our lives? By how we treat others?

For me, I’ve decided to treat this work situation as a temporary bump in the very long road of my career and ignore it. And at the same time, I’m going to focus on my impact on others and how I can positively influence their lives to be better and more rewarding.

After all, I don’t think I want my epitaph to say, “She Billed the Most in 4th Quarter.” I’d rather be remembered for leaving the world around me a better place.

“If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain; If I can ease one life the aching, Or cool one pain, Or help one fainting robin Up to his nest again, I shall not live in vain.” ~ Emily Dickinson

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3 thoughts on “How Do You Value Yourself?

  1. Concetta says:

    There must be something in the air this week about this. Amber Naslund’s latest post about consulting mentioned the idea of value as well and its immediately what I thought of when I read this: http://www.brasstackthinking.com/2012/11/how-to-build-a-strong-consulting-practice/

    In regards to rock stars and athletes, I think that the “salary value” is the problem – look at how many athletes go through incredibly troubling situations after they retire because they’ve built up their entire concept of their value as being what they got paid to do X. In terms of regular folks, I think its in that gray area of “hard to determine”. That’s why a lot of people go with salary or how big of a house they have as their de facto value assessment – but they confuse dollar value with value overall.

    In terms of the client, it usually can’t hurt to ask them the pointed questions about it. A lot of folks are pressing rates because they’re hard up for profits and their bosses are pressing on them to cut bone everywhere, regardless of business value. It may be nothing you did at all that’s forcing them into the situation. Or maybe their fee structure can be tweaked – perhaps some tasks are flat rates, some are by the word, and some are by the hour. Of course, this is the glass half full view and sometimes we have to deal with people who are glass half empty and will refuse to budge, but it usually can’t hurt to ask.

    In terms the value I place on my family, friends, and coworkers, well, its a sort of amorphous blob of factors – the amount of time I have with them (virtual or not), the amount of contact I have, their distance from me, how we can help each other, the fun we have together, the ways we make our lives better, whether I want to see that person at 6 am, etc. Its lots of unquantifiable factors that make up value. Some, like my BFF (you know, the kind you don’t talk to for months but somehow pick up right where you left off), would have a list so long that the last Harry Potter would look like easy reading.

    I like that you’re continuing to focus on the positive. Its the only thing we can do in the face of adversity, and it often pays off in ways we can’t fathom. Your zeal for keeping the right attitude, figuring things out, and not being afraid to study, try, and try again will always serve you well.

  2. Mom says:

    I agree that remaining positive is important. But what’s wrong with looking for the positive within yourself – that’s where the value is for each of us. No one in the world is exactly like you, you are unique. So celebrate your talents, your wisdom, your unique qualities. Everyone in your life – family, friends, even those you meet casually – value you for who you are, not what you do.

    Remember too, that you are a very strong person, you come from a family of women who have survived many challenges and made some startling changes in their lives. Aunt Avis returned to college at 55, I did it at 45. Julie moved Oregon last year in her 60’s and started a whole new life when she had never left the midwest and was recovering from cancer and the loss of her husband. Further back, your grandmother left the small town in Iowa to take up a career in publishing in Chicago and New York. And when she was 40, she became an artist and ceramicist and sold her art all over the world. Her mother became a newspaper publisher and editor when she was widowed young and had to support two children.

    When you think about these women – do you think about how much money they had? No, of course not. We all think of their characters, their determination, the sum total of their who they were. They had careers, sure, but that wasn’t who they were to us.

    I dislike the terms “midlife crisis” and “empty nest” they are both so negative and inaccurate. But something does happen in our middle years, when we become dissatisfied with careers and find our years of heavy-duty parenting are over. I think of it as a time of contemplation, a time of discovery and a time of renewal. It can be an exciting and wonderful time if we use it to find new ways to travel through life. I didn’t go back to school to further a career – I did it simply as a gift to myself. I wanted new challenges, new experiences, new ways of thinking about myself and life in general.

    Other people kept asking me what in the world I was going to do with a degree in History. My answer was the absolute truth. I told them that even if I ended up flipping burgers for a living, I would have a lot to think about while I was doing it. I just didn’t care what my degree was going to do for me – it was the knowledge and the opportunity to stretch myself mentally that mattered to me.

    I’m not suggesting that you go back to school. Each of us needs to find what pleases us most, deep inside, where it counts. Aunt Avis started ballroom dancing in her late 50’s, and took up bridge in her 70’s “to see if her mind still worked”. So, dance or become a clown, or get your own sheep to spin your wool, or design and create spinning wheels, or open a coffee/knitting shop, or buy an RV and take your husband on an extended road trip. Just do what pleases you most and find fulfillment in it, every day. This is a time of freedom when you can enjoy what you do and do what you enjoy.

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