Undervaluing Our Worth

Photo on 1-25-15 at 1.27 PM

Seventh on the list of “Symptoms of Underearning” that my friend sent is:

Undervaluing and Under-pricing. We undervalue our abilities and services, and fear asking for increases in compensation or for what the market will bear. 

I almost wrote “guilty.” Very interesting. People are not “guilty” of symptoms! That almost Freudian slip speaks volumes about my thinking. The more I explore this concept of underearning and the recovery from it, the more hopeful I feel. I do believe that all the things that went into making me an “underearner” are part of what was in back of all the drinking. Not that I’m considering taking a drink— I’m not. But now more than ever, I can see that the active substance abuse was just a symptom of a larger problem.

There’s a piece of my being an underearner that is anchored in Southern culture. I talked about it some when I was writing the series on money. In the culture in which I grew up, if a man have didn’t have enough money, he’s options were to work harder or longer— or to go cap-in-hand to beg the bossman for a little raise (don’t get too proud or too greedy). I purposefully said “man” because in the Southern culture, a man’s worth was heavily dependent on his ability to be a bread winner. I’ve talked to men who couldn’t even get a hard-on if their bank account balance was low. Wow. “That’s a hard working man” is about the highest compliment you can pay a Southern man— second maybe only to “he’s a good Christian,” which also included a big piece connected to the idea that poverty was pious. (“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”) Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with hard work. I’m a hard worker, I like that about myself, and I don’t intend to try to change that. But the idea that a man should work himself to death  rather than demand to be paid what his labor is worth is pathological (and encouraged by our culture).

Before I move on, let me say that women have had it even worse because their labor continues to be valued less than men’s and historically women have been expected to work their asses off in the home (whether they had a job outside the home or not) and if a woman was “only” a housewife and possibly a mother too, people would actually say “she doesn’t work.” Disgusting. She works— trust me, she works. My role in my marriage was being the homemaker in addition to whatever else I was trying to accomplish. It was harder than I ever imagined and I found out in the end, at least to the man I was “married” to,  the dollar value of it was $0.

I mention the Southern thing simply because it was a contributing factor in qualifying me as an “underearner” but I don’t for a minute think that these phenomena with regard to gender and class are peculiar to the American South. It’s just particularly strong there.

I also think my internalized homophobia and the other effects of living in a homophobic culture played heavily into my undervaluing of myself and the worth of my talents and labor. If I believe what society tells us (that homosexuals are not as valuable as heterosexuals) it only makes sense that I will be less likely to demand to get paid well for doing what I’m good at. The persecution that LGBTQ people endure breeds low self-esteem. People with low self-esteem rarely are good appraisers of their worth. There are gay people who get past this completely or almost completely. I intend to be one of them. I’m very good at what I do. It’s time for me to start making a living at it.

I’m grateful to God (as I don’t understand God) for leading me to a greater understanding of the phenomenon of underearning. I’ve been taking to a lot of people who have recovered from this seemingly hopeless state and they have given me a lot of hope— especially those who make a living in the Arts and those who do work that helps particular causes like the work I do with veterans. There are actors, writers, directors, and producers who make shit-tons of money doing what I’m good at. There’s no reason I can’t take my place among them. First, I’ll be satisfied with finding a place to live in New York City and being able to pay my bills. “Shit-tons” of cash may be forthcoming and I’m working on becoming okay with that. If— er, I mean when it happens, I’ll be the best rich person I know. I’ve got some great ideas how to help people with all that loot.

See y’all tomorrow.

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