Posts Tagged ‘value’

What Am I Really Worth?

It’s that time of year, firms are starting to do year-end planning and employees are starting to get antsy wondering “What will my bonus be this year?”  Just like clockwork, the recruiters at Pinnacle Group start getting calls from candidates and clients alike, asking what market comp is looking like for 2012.  It seems that everyone wants to be reassured of their value.  Candidates want to make sure they’re not getting the short end of the stick and firms want to be sure they’re not overpaying for their talent.  Because Pinnacle Group recognizes the value of being able to offer reasonable guidance on these issues for the financial services community, it has again prepared a Compensation Study suggesting guidelines for the 2011-2012 bonus/salary season.

Are you antsy yet, wondering where I’ve hidden the link so you can look right away and determine whether you’re being undercompensated?  If so, you’re like most of the people we have talked to over the years.  I am going to tell you where the link is, but only because it would be mean of me to tell you I have it and then not give it to you.  But, first, I’m going to ask you to reflect on why this chart will be so influential on your state of mind.

One of the things that I’ve observed, first as an employee, then as a business owner and later as a mentor but always as a wife/daughter/sister/friend is that how we value ourselves is a constantly moving target.  We typically base our determination of our worth or our value on external criteria, things totally out of our control, and those criteria that we look to can inflate or deflate us in an instant.

I’ve seen it play out in my own life, countless times.  When I was a young lawyer, I was working at a firm I generally liked. I was succeeding at bringing in business, frequently shined as a top biller and was doing lots of networking and marketing that promised a bright future with clients I liked and whose lives I was impacting in a way that felt genuinely good to me.  The firm I worked for had a policy of keeping associates of the same class at the same pay.  I’m sure it had a reason, but we derisively referred to it as “lock-step” pay.  First years made X, Second years mad X + a little and so on.

Because I just knew that I was “special”, I pleaded my case to my assigned mentor (ps. can I say that mentorship is not something you can “assign” but which comes through organically grown respect and a genuine desire to help someone – but that’s another column!).  I showed my mentor my spreadsheet of hours billed (mine vs others), the clients I had generated and tooted my own horn about why I was entitled to a little boost of $5,000 more than the other associates in my class.  I told him sincerely that would make me happier and ensure that I continued to be a productive member of the firm. He patiently heard my presentation with genuine interest and then told me that he was not going to support my petition for more money.  I was floored … and hugely disappointed. How dare they not offer me this pittance I was asking for, after all I was doing for them! Early the following year, I looked for a job at another firm where “I would be appreciated and my real value recognized.”

I did find that job, and I took my growing stable of clients with me, and the new firm did pay more money than where I had been.  I felt appreciated and valuable again.  For a while.  But something funny was happening inside me, I started to become unhappy again when I realized that associates at other firms were making more than me.  Even more inflaming to me was when I learned that partners at my own firm, who neither billed as many hours as me nor generated as much new business as me, were making substantially more money than me!  Will you be shocked to learn that I, yet again, became unhappy with my work and my choice of firm and felt undervalued and unappreciated?

So on I moved, taking my now quite big stable of business with me and started my own firm, where in the first year I made a pittance of what I had made in my prior job, but I was in charge of my own destiny and I knew then I would be happy.  No one would ever again undervalue what I was worth.  I began building my platform and my empire.

Yet, in the next chapter of my career, I found that my own inner hungry ghost wanted more!  So then I worked hard to generate more clients, to hire associates and paralegals and staffers of my own to leverage, and on and on … and each of them generated a little bit more for me.  The problem was that they, too, wanted to feel valued and appreciated the same way I did.  They each wanted more money.  I couldn’t understand why they didn’t understand that there was only so much money to go around.  After all, I built this business and they worked for me and, yes, of course, they were valued and appreciated.  Why did they need to derive their self-worth from their paycheck?

The cycle continued for years and, as many of you know, one day I had a quantum moment where I realized that I wasn’t happy and it didn’t have anything to do with how much money I made.  I had plenty of toys in the garage, but no time to play with them.  Somehow the relationships in my life were disintegrating because I had spent no part of me in nurturing them.  Most importantly, I wasn’t really enjoying what it was that I was doing anymore and I had stopped seeing that serving my clients was a privilege of trust from them.  I am embarrassed to say that I had started to see them and their problems as “revenue sources” for me and my firm of hungry mouths.  When I looked inside, I recognized that I had lost my internal compass of value and self worth and was looking to my bank account and my possessions on display to determine the answer to the question “How am I doing?”

Compared to what?  Compared to others?  Compared to a compensation chart of “averages”?  One thing I knew about myself was that I was absolutely not average! So if a chart said that the average was X to X times 5, then I expected to be compensated at or above the X times 5 marker. If I wasn’t being compensated at that rate, then I just flat-out knew that whoever had control over the resources was undervaluing me and my happiness rate plummeted.  Do you see my story as a mirror of you?

As long as I was looking outside myself to another marker, another person, another comment, to determine whether I was being properly valued, I was missing the only true source of my value.  I could change firms, chase more clients or deals, bill more hours, earn even more money and yet my source of value and happiness was constantly at risk.

Friends and colleagues coached me during this existential crisis to “Just do it for a couple of more years, work a little harder, bill more hours or hire another couple of associates, or join a different firm, and you’ll be set for life and THEN you can go do what makes you happy.”  That siren song was oh-so seductive!  After all, was I really THAT unhappy?  Maybe my unhappiness could be remedied by just another bump in what I earned.  Everyone said that was the answer and it certainly seemed easier than figuring out what my unhappiness was really about.  For me, as long as I was looking outside myself to decide if I was happy or unhappy based on the amount of money I was making, the answer was that something under there that I had to ferret out.  If I could get to the bottom of it, I could decide what needed to change.

What I ultimately learned was that the answer to the question “What am I worth?” comes from inside me and it never changes.  Through much hard inner work, I am proud to say to you that I resonate with the knowledge that my value comes from the fact I am contributing every day to making lives around me better in real and tangible ways.  The smile I offer to the worn out clerk at the grocery store, the way I thank by name the server who brings my dinner at a restaurant which makes him feel seen, the way I nurture my husband and my relationships.  These are the priceless markers of my worth and my value.

Yes, I have to make a living, and so do you.  I like to go on vacations and have pretty things.  But I no longer mistake these trinkets for the real thing. They aren’t substitutes for happiness, they are merely accessories to it.  Money IS important.  None of our mortgage holders accept smiles and kind words as payment and your child’s day care center won’t likely barter with you instead of swiping your credit card.  But it is within each of us to determine our own true worth and our happiness with the work we do, not to allow it to be set or even swayed by the figures on our paychecks or the numbers on a compensation chart or whether we have a boat or a Ferrari.

Winston Churchill said:

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.”

Here is the 2011-2012 Compensation Study.