On Salaries: You Are What You Make

By Carlos Portocarrero

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I can’t think of any other number that influences who we are and how we view ourselves in relation to others than our salaries. It’s the number we use when we compare ourselves to other people, how we view our progress in the workplace, and how we measure if we’re truly happy or not at our jobs.

Does that sound a little too dramatic or over the top? Welcome to reality. If you honestly don’t feel that your salary is a big deal in your life, you’re living in some kind of alternate universe (or you’re making a lot more than I am).

My old job was stingy when it came to salaries. Their MO was to hire smart, young people who were willing to work for a very low salary. Once they got enough experience and got really good at their jobs, they were allowed to leave. Then the next round of smart, young people would come in and pick up the slack. Somehow, they managed to make these transitions pretty effortless—the work rarely suffered (I guess it goes to show how good they were at picking the right, smart, young people to hire). Did I mention everyone was young and smart, including myself?

But the people were great, that was the weird thing about the job. Everyone liked each other (with some exceptions near the top of the pyramid) and got along great. It made going work a lot of fun. But the frustrations of being paid so little is what kept people leaving—they just couldn’t keep a lot of these people.

The salary is what made me move on to my next job, and it’s a number that’s constantly on my mind. Am I being underpaid? Should I be making more? Should I be making more than this or that person at my current job? This constant worrying about possibly being “underpaid” is really something that can get in the way of enjoying your job. Sometimes I wish I knew what everyone around me makes, and other times I’m like “that would only cause trouble.” Imagine if you found out that someone in your office whom you think is clearly an inferior worker to you is making more than you! That would ruin your job—there’s no way you could function properly carrying that kind of weight around.

Then there are the life questions that come at you and you have to look at that salary number to see how your life is going to pan out:

  • Can I get married?
  • Can I support a baby?
  • Can I provide for a family?

And the endless list of “Can I”s goes on and on and on. And that’s why most people want to make more money, in my opinion. To eliminate all these “Can I”s and stop worrying about what you can and can’t do.

Here’s what I’m trying to say about how big a role this one number plays in our lives: when I worked at my old job, we all knew we were underpaid. That was a given. And as I looked for a new job, I obviously wanted to get paid more, but I didn’t believe I deserved to be paid more. When I found my new job and they wanted to hire me, part of me couldn’t grasp the idea that company A valued me at $X and company B was willing to give me 20% more.

It just goes to show you that what we make slowly becomes a part of how we value ourselves, and that can sometimes be a dangerous proposition, especially if you’re short changing yourself.

8 Responses to “On Salaries: You Are What You Make”

  • scared Indio Says:

    It’s funny how we can create a huge list of “Can I’s” but never do we bother to include the most important “CAN I GET A RAISE/HAVE MORE MONEY?” There is an old saying “Pay a little, do a little”. Who is the most important person on this planet anyway?

    Mucho love,

  • Lauren Says:

    Interesting blog! I’m a recent grad and just started writing about some of my financial mishaps/adventures a couple of months ago. I guess you could say I’m about where you were five years ago. Hope you don’t mind if I link to your site and check in for tips now and then?


  • MoneyGrubbingLawyer Says:

    I think you’re being a little too dramatic and over the top :). While it is true that salaries matter (after all, it’s why the vast majority of us even bother to show up to work), to think that you are what you make is just sad. Regardless of how much you make, the “Can I?” list just keeps growing.

  • Chelo Marroquin Says:

    this is so often true. but keep in mind that not only the annual gross salary goes into how much you are truly getting paid. Does your company have perks? Does the lower paid job have more flexible hours. Is it truly an apples to apples comparison. Sometimes you need to step back and take a look at the BIG picture.
    In my book quality of life has a big part in the “how much am I getting paid and is it what I’m worth?”

  • tipd.com Says:

    On Salaries: You Are What You Make…

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  • theyfoundoutmysalary Says:

    i agree with moneygrubbinglawyer.. the thing is noone was forced to take their jobs, you thought the salary offered was good enough and acceptable and accepted willing and excited.. when i was being hired i negotiated a better salary thats how i joined with a salary that was satisfactory to me and it did not matter to me what others around me made.. then i found out i was one of the highest paid juniors at my company. now i have transferred to another part of my company and the staff have found out (because i forgot my payslip in the copier) but i am NOT their same level, i am not a super or a manager but am a level above them – no line staff just a different level. they have been snickering behind my back and i hear they are saying i “do absolutely nothing” i guess it means their lower salary allows them to do nothing but mine does not permit me to do nothing. it bothered me a couple days then i realized i work very hard for my money and my bosses keep giving me raises every year. if they are satisfied by my work and they are who i answer to, am very glad in my position. and when am ready to make more money, i will upgrade and move on to a higher paying job. the end.

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