What Is Your Value?

Last Thursday I turned the subject of the article The Medium vs. the Message into a 20-minute speech, which I delivered to one of my Toastmasters clubs. At the beginning of the speech, I had everyone in the audience create a fake business card with their name and their current career listed on it. Then at the end of the speech, I had them do it again, and of course the results were different because people were thinking differently about their careers.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing our jobs as a container within which we work. Maybe you think to yourself, “I’m an employee of company X.” But seeing your job as something contained within you is far more empowering. So instead you think, “Company X is one of my outlets for self-expression.” Instead of you holding a position with a company, you see that company as holding a position within you. It’s as if you’ve hired the company as you would a contractor to perform a service for you, and the service they provide is one of helping you express your value to others.

Why is it that top professional speakers get paid over $10,000 for a 45-minute keynote (and this doesn’t even include product sales)? How is it these speakers are able to charge so much? Partly the reason is that those top speakers understand the value they provide. Their value lies in their ability to change the way people think in a very short period of time, sometimes permanently. I’ve attended many presentations where the speaker was able to permanently change my thinking in less than an hour. Just one idea presented in the right way can provide enough value to make the whole cost of a seminar worthwhile. There’s far more demand for speakers who can effect this kind of change than there is supply, so the pay rates remain high.

A speaker’s value is ultimately about what gets transferred to the audience. What is the actual impact? Similarly, your value (in terms of your career) is based on what you have to give to others that will benefit them in some way. It doesn’t matter what degrees you have or what your job title is. Your value is all about what you can give. What is the actual impact of what you do?

When you become consciously aware of the value you provide through your work, you can focus yourself more deliberately on increasing that value. For example, a professional speaker can increase his/her value by developing the ability to impact more people, more profoundly, more lastingly, and in less time. A computer programmer can increase his/her value by developing the ability to devise faster, better, and cheaper solutions to challenging technical problems. A professional blogger can increase his/her value by developing the ability to provide more impactful content, more frequently, in less time, and for larger audiences.

This is really just common sense, but so often people lose sight of their value and get caught up managing minutia. At the end of the line, your value must be received by a human being, or you haven’t provided any value at all. Which human beings benefit most from the value you provide through your work, and how can you increase your service to them?

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