Go to Salary.com or Glassdoor.com and type in your job title and zip code, and you’ll get a nice little graph of the average salaries for other people who have roles similar to yours. Those numbers are so vague, though. They can’t take into account the size of the company, or the quality of each person’s experience. If an average director in your function is paid $140k, then what does that mean for someone with 1 year of experience versus 20?
At some point, you stop being worth what the average person is worth, and worth what YOU are worth. That could be more or less than the aforementioned number. When I negotiated my hourly salary at a prior company (a large public one), I was feeling ballsy and went high for myself at the time with a whopping $70 per hour. They couldn’t do that, but they came back with $65 an hour. It turned out that I worked a good 50-60 hours per week for 6 months and made much, much more than I’ve made in any year of my life before or since. The job didn’t renew, it was a 6 month gig, it didn’t have health insurance or a 401k, or time off, but I still made bank. My networth skyrocketed that year.
I know I’m underpaid right now. Something like $20k – $40k underpaid. And if I was really smart and able to position myself into a more senior role, I could probably be making even more. Salary is not what I work for, at all, because if it was I’d chose another profession, but it clearly is somewhat of what I work for, because if it wasn’t at all, I also would choose another profession.
Right now, however, I face a bit of a conundrum. The good news is that I have no serious responsibilities in my life. I have amassed $230k in savings, my monthly rent is $650, I paid for my (new) used car in cash, and I can scale back on everything else if needed. It won’t be this way forever. I’m terrified of having a family where my steady income is a necessity. And it will be that way soon. Not tomorrow. But maybe in the next 5 years. For now, I want to save as much as possible. I CAN save on my current salary. I’m paid well, and many would kill to make my salary. But still, I COULD go off and find a job where I make $20k-$40k more. What if, I found a job that I didn’t absolutely love, but that I could stand for $40k a year more. That’s $2k per month after taxes. Another $12k per year. And, maybe they’d match my 401k, so that would be even more, etc.
But, as I said, I don’t work for money alone. I work for the challenge of making something from nothing. I work for long hours of inspiration, passionate people, camaraderie. Maybe I should, for a little while, start working for the money.
It’s challenging to find time to learn anything in a role where you’re so under resourced. I learn by doing anyway, so I have grown professionally since starting my job three years ago, but where do I go from here? Am I staying because I love what I do? Am I staying because I genuinely believe that my options will be worth more than they were when I bought them and I want to finish vesting? Am I staying because I’m terrified of starting over somewhere new, having to prove myself again, being in a place where people don’t know my quirky personality nor my track record? Has this become an abusive relationship where I’m too afraid to leave because they hold the purse strings?
There is comfort in stability, in knowing what will come next, in understanding how to get what you want, to some extent, at least the freedom to work on projects you want, even if they don’t always turn out as you’d hoped, and I’m scared of losing the freedom. If I go off to another position either I’d be in a leadership role with a lot to prove, or in a role too junior where I’d be bored and frustrated by the lack of freedom. I’m pretty good at what I do right now, so it is safe. I know I can do better. I know someone else can probably do even better than my best. But I’m good. And I like being good. I like the feeling of accomplishment.
I’m just also so tired. Burnt out on hope. All the late nights. The long hours. To prove something. To support the team. To win. Well, it’s all fine and dandy until you no longer feel like you’re winning. You just feel like you’re fighting a battle with no end in sight, or no attractive end. So you want to walk away, but your sword is in hand, and you’re swinging fast and furious enough to hold your ground as the castle walls crumble around you. Do you wait or do you make a mad dash in a direction you’ve never been, maybe with no actual destination confirmed, just, running into the light, hoping to find another battle to fight, one worth winning.