Tuesday, April 11, 2006

At Your Own Valuation

People tend to take you at your own valuation. If you think you're worth nothing, they'll think so too, and pay you accordingly (whatever the coin). I have known this for a long time but I have just come face to face with it again in a rather startling manner.

I have a friend, let's call her Simonetta. Now Simonetta has years and years of experience in both broadcast and print journalism, is really good at her work and I don't think I have ever met anyone as conscientious or diligent. All good.

But Simonetta also has a very low opinion of herself. When I first came to know her, she used to look out at me with large desperate eyes, begging for help on this, that or the other. In the rodeo that was our office, this was not acceptable behaviour. If one had a weakness, one strove to hide it and brazen things out. It was OK to know nothing. It was not OK to know nothing and show that you knew nothing.

Anyway, we did not hit it off. She found me hard and angry (everyone found me angry at that time) and I found her a wimp. Then, towards the end of her stay in my newspaper, I actually got to know her. There was so much more there than originally met the eye. I started to like her just as she was about to leave. And when she left, I found myself missing her. Calling to catch up.

Anyone, as unlikely a pairing as the two of us were (one militant, the other self-deprecating) we became the best of friends. Part of each other's support group. When I was first in Australia, going through landlord crisis after landlord crisis (I stayed in three different houses in my first semester alone), she was the one I would call and howl to. She would listen, make me feel better, at least well enough to fight another day.

So there she was at the other end of the table looking tired and slightly out of sorts. She was treating me to lunch (for my graduation) and there was some quality of joy missing from her. Slowly, it came out. How a friend had contracted her to do research, underpaid her for the work and was npw refusing to pay expenses. There was a lot of resentment on her part (this friend is a millionairess in her own right, while Sim is a struggling freelancer) and it was easy to see she was feeling ill-used. She wanted to forget about it, chalk it up to experience but it was obviously a difficult situation to swallow.

We went through it from every possible angle and I finally asked her if she had a clear idea of how much she wanted to earn a month, freelancing. She hemmed and hawed and told me how little she needed to actually survive (her life being so very basic and close to the bone).

"I didn't ask how much you needed to survive. I asked how much you wanted to be comfortable, how much you think you're worth. Come on, name a figure and let's decide what you can do to earn that a month," I said.

"OK, I can get by on X amount of dollars. I don't want to kill myself working for twice as much."

I was staggered. This was a woman with 25 years of experience and she had named a figure that was close to what my little sister, a new graduate, was pulling in. "You don't have to kill yourself to earn that much, or twice or three times that much. Come on, let's work out an acceptable goal for you and write it down."

She was obviously uncomfortable. Finally I took the notebook from her and started scribbling a rough draft of a possible goal. When I named a figure in there I saw her flinch, as if from a blow and I could actually feel her stomach clench. She told me later than when she saw the figure I named (which was not extravagant by any means) a voice popped in her head, remarking sardonically: "Who do you think you are? You think you're worth that much?"

Anyway, I handed over the notebook to her and said: "OK, come on, you edit what I just wrote, to your liking. All I ask is that you do not change the figure (unless you want to increase it) or the time frame."

Simonetta looked at me, her eyes troubled. There was no way of getting out of this (you have no idea what a martinet I can be) and she had no choice but to put pen to paper and work out something acceptable. The thing she most wanted to change (the figure) was, according to me, sacrosanct.

To ease the process I told her a few stories I had picked up along the way. About how people only value something when they have had to fork out a hell of a lot for it. Exorbitant equalling quality, whichever way you looked at it.

For instance: I have a friend who runs a hobby store. She wanted to clear some spools of thread, so she had them marked down by 50 per cent and placed in front of the store. For a week, customers came, hovered nearby, picked up a spool, looked it over, glanced at the price, noticed it was cheaper than other embroidery thread, and moved right along without bothering to make a purchase. Fed up, she doubled the price from what it had originally been. In a few days the thread was sold out. In relating this story to me, my friend the shop-owner had said: "Typical Malaysian mentality. Unless you pay a lot for something, it ain't worth nothing."

Then there was a plastic surgeon that I met on the streets of the Champs Elysee. He took me out for a delightful dinner and told me the story of his life. There was a time when this man, who was relatively wealthy, had lost all his money because of some bad investments in real estate. He said many of his "friends" had gloated over his downfall, but he was unfazed, having decided to become the best plastic surgeon in all of Canada, and many times as wealthy as he had been, before he lost all his money.

"How do you become the best plastic surgeon in all of Canada?" I wondered aloud.

"You charge about five times as much as everybody else. I upped my fees tremendously and lost all my old customers. But I made a deal with this plastic surgeon in the US. Whenever he had a patient who wanted to do a particular type of surgery, he would say, yes, I can do this for you, but the best in the world at this, is in Canada. Only I have to warn you, he's very expensive. And I would do the same for him. We found that at least 50 per cent of our patients opted for the other man, the supposedly "best in the world"."


And what do you think? In a very short time, he was all wealthy again.

Simonetta softened up, listening to these stories. (Have you ever found that people generally do? Maybe that's why the Chicken Soup series is so popular). She started writing. And an amazing thing happened. When she actually started focussing on the words, she came up with possible jobs she could do, based on her experience, which she could charge premium rates for. Smiling at her, I leaned over and crossed out the figure I had written, and wrote down another one. Almost double. "Sorry Sim, but if you're gonna be doing that kind of work, you're gonna have to up the income. If you don't want the rest of the money, you can give it to me, no problem."

She played around with it until she came up with something she was comfortable with.

"Right then, can you copy this out about 10 times after you wake up?"

She was already buying into the idea now and so agreed willingly. The second day, after performing her little morning ritual, Simonetta felt something burgeoning inside. She was not going to let her friend get away with taking advantage of her. If nothing else, she would place her displeasure on the record.

Sim called her friend and in a calm voice, explained her reservations about having to take the expenses for the job out of her own pocket. Her friend, as expected, started to object: "But you agreed..."

"Yes, I know I agreed. Sometimes I'm stupid. Sometimes things don't hit me till later. But it was not fair for you to suggest I take the expenses, which are no little sum, by the way, out of my own pocket. You said you thought the use of the library in question would be free. It was far from it. You don't have to do anything about it, because as you said, I agreed, but I just wanted to let you know how I feel."

There was silence at the other end of the line. Then her friend came through: "Look, I don't want to jeopardise this friendship. I'll pay you the expenses. No problem. Would you prefer a cheque or cash?"

And that's not all. About 20 minutes later, her friend called again: "Look, you said just now you were undercharging for your services. Just for the record, I'd like to know what you think is a fair price?"

Sim named her price and her friend agreed. "Fine, that's what I'll pay you. I may want to use your services in future and it would be better if we started out on a good note."

And 20 minutes after that, another call: "I budgeted for 20 hours, and although you did it in 18 hours, I think I'll pay you for 20 hours, OK?"

So, after two days of writing down her financial goals, she made an extra RM900 in the course of an hour, just from one conversation. Sim called me after that of course, totally jubilant.

"You see, you see what happens when you change your mind about your value? When you open up your mind to the possibility that you may actually be worth a hell of a lot?"

"Yes, yes, thank you, I feel so happy now. And now I look back on it, I actually find I enjoy such work. Haha."

"Yeah, there's nothing like proper compensation to motivate you."


goldennib said...

What a good story for me right now.

I was raised to work hard and do a good job, but to speak up about one's value was bragging and we don't do that. Praise is actually embarrassing and painful.

In my last review, my boss said to me "You make alot of money, don't you think it's enough?" And I let it slide because the company's going through a tough time and I was in the middle of buying a new house. But it's time I did as you suggest and think about my value.

Thans as always for inspiration.

Jenn said...

You're welcome. And thank you. For reading. It's nice to know that there's someone at the other end of the line.

gutterspace said...

Beautiful. And really inpires me, considering the "I hate my job because of various reasons" phase that I'm going through.

lemontree said...

hey jenn. neat. and i couldnt agree with you more. for me i think i am great at my work and so there i have always got myself a good deal. but when it comes to more important matters (read matters of the heart) i don't think i am as worthy and so short change myself. and i shall stop that starting today. thanks .

dorkette said...

Hey.. I could use a friend like you! LOL I'm trying to figure out a way to work from home or start my own business, but I haven't got a clue. YOu sound like a chick with cajones!

Dorkette said...

Oh, and YOU seem like the strong one... thanks for your kind words on my site. :-)

Andy said...

Funny, seems like our blog community is experiencing the collective subconscious again or something. I was going to blog tonight on a favorite topic of mine--"People will walk all over you if you let them...so don't let them." You beat me to it. And you did it with your usual panache, too.

Jenn said...

gutterspace: Thank you. And life's too short to stay in a job you hate. Make a plan and get the hell outta there. (I know, I know, the making the plan part's a lot of hassle, but frankly it's about one hundredth of the hassle of remaining in your misery)

lemontree: I find it hard to believe that a woman who has it all together like you finds herself unworthy of true love. Actually nix that. I can believe it. I listen constantly to the low self esteem of some of the most fabulous people I know. The thing is, you wont be worthy until you realise you are. Nobody outside of you can tell you. (You wouldn't believe them anyway)

Dorkette: Oh my goodness, I am honoured that you made your way to this site. And thank you for your comments. I meant what I said, you are a very strong woman. How do I know? You're here aren't you? You didn't take the easy way out.

Andy: Collective subsconscious it is. I do wish you'd write the post anyway. I do love your take on things. Always funny (and more, if one has the gumption to look beyond the humour)

goldennib said...

Jenn, Jenn, guess what?

My boss said something to me today (about being nicer, again) and I could see your post going through my head and I spoke up and he totally backed down.

"I never said you weren't doing a good job. I do think you're doing a good job."

Thanks for the inspiration. I felt good.

Jenn said...

Oh wow! I'm so glad! And thanks so much for telling me that.


~Lil Nance ;> said...

I stop by your blog almost everyday... I just don't always have the time to comment... and that sucks!! I read this yesterday after I made a big long post. I wish I had read it before. Your words always speak to me... but this post REALLY was like an eye opener. It makes me want to change some things! Thank you for posting such awesome words all the time... but especially for posting this.

It made my week!! I'll be doing a "cost analysis" on myself soon!

Jenn said...

Wow Nancy, that is very sweet of you. I'm glad you stopped by.

And I do hope you don't sell yourself short when it comes to making terms with your employers.

I think basically you decide what you're worth, stick to it, and eventually, the rest of the world start to see it your way.