As someone who "works hard" it's easy to fall into the trap of believing that your hard work is valuable.
Yes, you heard me. Working hard is a trap. Or more specifically, believing that hard work == value is a trap. Most of us have fallen into it or very likely are still trapped in that mindset.
It's a trap because you are no better off in the end with that mindset – you work hard, you don't get the appreciation "you deserve" for that hard work, and you feel under-appreciated and under-valued. So you work harder and get the same result. Eventually, you blame others, burn out, or give up altogether. Nothing good comes of it.
The way to exit this mindset trap is to accept that
effort !== value.
Imagine someone holding a steak. (A steak-holder, if you will.)
What's the value of that steak to the holder?
It's not the price of the steak, that's the cost. That depends on its pedigree, where it's sourced, and where you're buying it.
The value of the steak is somewhere above its cost, which is totally a perception on the steak-holder's part. If they don't eat steak, it's not valuable at all. If they only "kinda like" steak, they'll be extremely conscious of the cost. If they freakin' love steak, it's pretty valuable and they don't even see the cost.
Here's the thing...
Somebody is paying you because, on some level, they believe you are valuable. They are the steak-holder and you are the steak. Otherwise, they wouldn't pay you (no value).
So the good news is that you are valuable. The trick is figuring out how valuable and then drawing the line from what you do to what value you bring. The exact amount of value is a perception you need to uncover.
It could be represented like this:
$PERCEIVED_VALUE - $YOUR_SALARY = $YOUR_ACTUAL_VALUE
- Perceived value: The value the person who is employing you perceives you are adding. Critically, this may not be an actual number but instead a feeling or some other qualitative value.
- Your Salary: Your cost. Pure and simple.
The person paying you is capturing your actual value. This is their ROI on investing in you. As soon as that equation is negative, it does not make business sense to keep investing (*gestures around*).
If you want to be valued, you need to change the equation by understanding and influencing
Two things about that:
- Sometimes you cannot change someone's perception of you (have to cut back on steak this month – doctor's orders)
- You cannot try to change it without understanding what the perception is (did they hire you because you are USDA certified?)
If it's the first case, the only option is to change the steak-holder. Get out, move teams, job hop, etc. I did that with my first job and raised my base salary by 30% because I went somewhere that valued me more.
If it's the second case, it's up to you to talk to the steak-holder to uncover what they want and how they see you contributing to that, so you can tie your performance back to that value in all the work you do.
PS. Don't even think about going into consulting or freelancing before accepting that time does not equal value, or you will land in the same bear trap and be forced to gnaw off your legs.