Last week I had dinner with a galfriend who was telling me about her new job. She and I had recently both been looking for new part time work, and had applied for similar positions around town. When I asked her if she was going to still pursue one of the jobs we both applied for, she asked how much the pay was and then replied, “I will no longer work for less than $20 an hour.” I was somewhat shocked when I heard this, as a part time service job rarely pays that much, even here in NYC. She being in her late twenties and I in my mid thirties, we both are highly trained performers and need to take the survival jobs that work with our performing schedules—which means that usually we aren’t allowed to be that picky. Usually, we apply to lots of places, get hired at a few, and juggle schedules to fit with our rehearsal and performance schedules, so we can pay rent.
A few days later I awoke from a dream where a talent agent I auditioned for in the dream handed me four $20 bills. It was a very clear dream and I did look into the symbolism, but the point is that in the dream I was shocked to be handed $80 for minimal amount of work—an audition—which I always do for free. Upon waking from the dream my friend’s statement that she would no longer work for less money an hour rang through my head. I sat up and knew she was exactly right.
This post is about worth and self-value, so ignore all of those exact dollar amounts for now. Google defines worth as: the value equivalent to that of someone or something under consideration; the level at which someone or something deserves to be valued or rated. Back in the day, before there was cash, people determined the worth of their goods in marketplaces. What they had to trade versus what they needed, and the time that was invested in the tradeable product. For example, I weave two blankets and it takes two days to weave one, my time and product are worth the four days that the farmer takes to harvest 24 gallons of milk and a bushel of corn… so we have a fair trade. (This is super rudimentary and I’m by no means a reliable resource on this concept, its just so you who are reading and I are on a similar page to get to my point.) Basically, whatever I put into something—my time, my money, my resources—I deserve and equal (or better) trade for what I’m selling. This become an even bigger concept when you get into supply and demand—whatever I have versus the general availability of the product—makes the worth grow. But with all of this, the point I’m getting to is that it isn’t the product itself that holds the worth, it’s the value of our time and our abilities.
When my galfriend stated that she was worth at least $20 an hour, I was shocked. But why was this? I realized because I valued the actual money more than I valued my time. I feel like time is something I have a lot of, however this is not true. I have plenty of responsibilities to myself and plenty of education and experience to demand a certain value of my time. I have a master’s degree in Psychology. Truth be told, I got it because I was lacking a direction in life, and decided to go back to school I got the degree in Psych with the idea that I’d write grant proposals or teach classes, but when I finished my program, I realized I didn’t feel qualified to do either. Why is this? Because I don’t think that my online degree is worthy of more than that. For some reason, I felt that my lack of experience, with only a degree on paper and class work to validate me, I was afraid to I would be turned down because I don’t have enough experience, or a big enough name. Now, the brain in my head is exactly the same as it was before I got the degree, just now with added information. I’m a really smart gal, many people think this, and its not just my parents and relations. I’m smart. I’m analytical. I’m helpful. I’m good. Why don’t I see this? My galfriend has so much bartending experience, as well as music training. She paid for that training and worked her way up, so yes, she does deserve to value her time highly. She is good at what she does. I’m good at what I do, too. I get amazing reviews for acting. People love working with me onstage and in my survival jobs. My employers, co-workers, and friends know they can rely on me to get things done. So why don’t I see how much I am worth. And even worse, why can’t I demand my worth? If you don’t eventually demand your worth, people will think you’re worthless, or worse, take advantage of you.
OUCH !! No one wants to be taken advantage of in any kind of relationship. Jobs are the easiest to understand because there is a transaction that happens—you do X amount of work per hour in exchange for a certain rate. You have to demand to be paid what you’re worth, and your worth will manifest. But we have to look at worth in all relationships. We have to understand that we are valuable and should be treated as such in any relationship we invest in.
This is a lesson I’ve been working on within myself for a while. Its very scary for me to stand up and say that I’m worth certain dollar or time allotments. Its rough. I’m terrified sometimes when I turn in invoices for my time—because I’m not sure that the work I’ve done (which was elaborate, and researched, and substantial) is worth whatever dollar amount. And WHY do I think this? I am worth a lot. I am good. I am educated. I am thorough. But because I don’t have people walking up to me just handing me money or telling me of my worth, I doubt myself.
Its very interesting because I have a few friends who are going through similar things at the moment—or at least I’m noticing it more because I’m on a similar path. I have a friend with an office job who is frustrated because the people at work seem to only value her for what she can do for them. She is an incredibly kind, incredibly helpful, incredibly resourceful person. I don’t understand why people don’t latch on and keep her friendship around—I’m certainly glad I have her. Anyway, after chatting with her about her helpfulness, I realized that she doesn’t ask for anything in return. Which is okay, but when she needs something of value to herself—even if its just a buddy for a conversation—she doesn’t get any return from anyone that she helps. Which sucks and feels even worse. I told her she needs to start telling those sucker fish when they ask for things, what they will do for her in return. Yeah, I know, for all of you “nice” people out there, you shouldn’t demand a return on your helpfulness—however, if sucker fish aren’t told that the help you’re giving them is worth something to you then they won’t see your worth. Let me rephrase: your time has value. If you give me your time, I should help you out in return. Basic. Simple. Sadly, not always followed. Just remind people that your time is valuable, and then when you call on them to help you, gently remind them that you helped them, and that your help might not be there next time if they fail to assist you. Especially if the helping is a one way street.
Another worth issue is when you’re actually given help, time, even love when you didn’t ask for it. It’s a weird thing to handle when you are given a lot that you didn’t do anything for. A singer friend is going through this, as am I. We have both found people in our lives who, for once, seem more invested in us than we seem to be in them—which is a lot if you know either of us in life. We both give everything to anyone who needs it—and sadly don’t demand something in return. We both keep up the hope it will be returned, but always seem to come up lacking. Anyway, dealing with an outpouring of help, time, love when its not expected, just for being ourselves is an interesting phenomenon. Singer friend and I had a conversation on the phone about how neither of us knew how to deal with it, because its usually us that start the outpouring, and usually us that get the short end of the stick. But because its incoming first, and nothing is really expected more in return, its confusing. When value comes your way you have to accept it, and enjoy it. And hope it doesn’t evaporate too quickly, or at all.
Worth is a very difficult concept for some—I’m one. However, figure out the time and energy you put into something. You should expect to get an almost equal, if not more, value in return. Tell yourself you are worthy of receiving that value. Be strong in asking or demanding it—you don’t need to be rude about it, but you should be strong. Strong people are rewarded. Also think about what you need—its really okay to ask, or strongly request, what you need in return for what you’re giving. Everything has a value, even time. Especially time. You are worth a good deal. But only you can demand your value. No one else will. Good luck, and know you’re not alone in this battle.
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