Reach for the stars—and grab them—with Thomas Fiffer’s four-word mantra.
I usually write about intimate relationships—and how they go wrong—but it struck me that most of us spend more hours of the day (and sometimes night) working at our jobs and creative side projects than we do with our romantic partners. This makes our relationship with work the primary one in our lives, maybe not in emotional importance but in time spent and energy expended. If you love your job and it makes you happy, great. But any relationship in which you’re not getting back at least as much as you’re putting in is lopsided at best and dysfunctional at worst. So if your work is unfulfilling, if it leaves your soul parched, your spirit starved, your whole being yearning for something more meaningful than an uninspiring, money-producing activity that pays (or perhaps barely pays) the bills, you’re essentially stuck in a dysfunctional relationship with yourself, a partnership in which your most basic needs for respect, appreciation, camaraderie, are being underserved, even denied and ignored—by you. That’s right. It’s not your employer’s fault that you find your work unsatisfying, that you haven’t been given more responsibility (if that’s what you desire), or that you haven’t moved into to the coveted corner office. Your employer—even if you are self-employed—is only giving you what you ask for and paying you what you insist you’re worth. But wait a minute, you say. I asked for a raise and promotion last month, and I was turned down. Sure, you asked. And your employer responded in exact accordance with how much he or she values you as an employee. Your boss showed you precisely as much respect as he or she has for you and is matching your salary to the value he or she believes you provide. It’s that value proposition that you need to change, because unless hell freezes over any time soon, even the nicest, most generous boss isn’t going to compensate you above the level at which you value yourself.
When you make these four words your work mantra—and not until—you will start commanding more respect, receiving more money, and enjoying your job more as a result. It will also become clear to you—in a way it wasn’t before—when you need to get out from under an employer who refuses or is unable to see your worth and compensate you accordingly.
The four words are: Value Yourself More Highly. On the face of it, they sound simplistic and obvious. Well, duh, you say. I should value myself more highly. But within each word lies a lesson and a practice that will supercharge your work life in ways you didn’t think were possible.
1. Value. The lesson contained in the word value is that value—when it comes to the work you contribute—is 100% perceived. Even if you are working at a job that doesn’t require much skill and your employer considers you a replaceable commodity, you can enhance your perceived value by the way you approach your job, your punctuality, your attitude, your performance, and the way you treat or even lead your co-workers (and you don’t need to be managing them to lead them). Since your value is 100% perceived, you are 100% in control of that perception—a liberating thought when you let it sink in. Rather than wasting time complaining about how undervalued you are, you can devote your energy to contributing more value and making yourself appear more valuable in every way you can. When it comes to value, you’re in the driver’s seat, whether you’re driving for Uber, selling cars on the lot, or driving a hard bargain in multimillion dollar negotiations. Understanding that you are in control of your own value and responsible for setting it is the first step to righting your dysfunctional relationship with work.
2. Yourself. Yeah, so. What about me? What about you? It’s all about you, and it has nothing to do with your boss or your company (unless you’re the boss and the company, too). When focusing on how to improve your job satisfaction—in your current job or by seeking a new one—put all the focus on yourself. Is this what I want to do? Will I be making a difference in areas I care about by taking this position? Is my employer or potential employer valuing me highly enough? Many companies have a habit of acting as if you’re lucky to be employed by them and expecting you to be grateful that you haven’t been terminated. This encourages you to focus your work effort on what you can do to stay employed and avoiding any mistakes that might get you fired. And it puts every decision and action that don’t value you in the context of, “Well, at least I still have a job.” The purpose of your relationship with work—as with any relationship—is to get your needs met. Recognizing that your needs go beyond a decent salary is critical making your job more rewarding in non-monetary ways. In addition, it’s crucial that you separate your sense of personal identity from the job you’re performing and the organization you work for. This helps reinforce for you that your value is intrinsic and flows from who you are and what you bring to any organization, not from a particular role that you hold.
3. More. You might think wanting more means you’re greedy, or thinking you deserve more means you’re arrogant. Again, employers have a way (since it’s in their financial best interests) of making you feel it’s untoward to ask for anything more than you’re getting. Yet you see colleagues being given more money and more responsibility. You can be assured that those rewards didn’t just float down from heaven. Instead they’re almost invariably the result of someone increasing his or value to the organization, then asking for that value to be recognized through commensurate compensation and opportunities. Remember, Oliver Twist didn’t ask, “Please sir, I want some more,” because he was greedy. He asked because he was starving and needed nourishment to thrive. Business, and nonprofits, too, are all about more. The goal of a business is to create more profit. The rationale for a nonprofit is to raise more money to give to its cause. Leaders of these organizations understand more perfectly well, and they know that when you add more value, you deserve more money and a larger role in the organization’s affairs. So don’t be afraid to believe you deserve more, and don’t worry about offending anyone by asking. The worst thing that can happen is you’ll be turned down in the short term, while establishing yourself for the long term as a person who knows his or her value and demands that it be recognized and rewarded.
4. Highly. You may think you think highly of yourself, but the way you act, especially at work, may not match your self-perceived opinion. When you step fully into self-respect (as opposed to engaging in shallow self-promotion), you begin to look different, think differently, act differently, and project a wholly different image to the world. You also start to treat yourself better—paying more attention to your health through diet and exercise, refusing to engage in self-destructive behaviors, and walking a little taller and straighter wherever you go. This transformation has an enormous effect on your work life, and you will find yourself being noticed and sought out much more than when you indulged in fruitless complaining and negative self-talk. Raise the bar for yourself—for what you will accept and tolerate, for what you expect from others, and for the level of compensation and responsibility you need not only to earn a good living but also to feel happy and fulfilled. And if you’re earning well and shouldering a big load, but you know in your heart that what you’re doing isn’t making the world better or addressing your own sense of purpose, have enough self-respect to move on and seek a position that feeds your soul and spirit and enables you to feel good about all the time you spend working. It may take some effort to raise the bar, but when you do it, everything changes.
Write the four words on a piece of paper. Put it in your wallet, or better yet, pin it to your bulletin board or tape it to your wall. Have no fear of sharing your mantra with others. They will respect you for it. If anyone asks questions, don’t shrink back with shame or hesitation. Announce proudly that you’ve decided to value yourself more highly. You may be surprised to find that people you thought didn’t appreciate you start valuing you more highly, too. Affirm your value every day, and you’ll soon start enjoying the benefits. Come on. Go ahead and reach for the stars. They’re well within your grasp.