The Conundrum of High Salary

Estimated reading time: 2 mins

Do you get hung up on how much you earn? Is your salary the most important measure to you in terms of defining your success?

For most people, that is true. We’re socially conditioned to think that way.

Seth Godin recently published a post ‘The myth of big salaries (it’s all marketing) ‘ claiming that high salaries have no real impact on our lives – saying that we

can’t eat more meals in a day or wear more shoes. What matters to the manager is the relative amount.

Seth has a point, and if we were to put a rational hat on, he’d be spot on. Relative earnings mean a lot to us, more than what we actually earn. You might be spitting at the screen and shouting that I am talking crap. But nevertheless, this is true for most of society.

The recession has forced many of us to reassess what is important. Some of us have been forced, or encouraged, to take a ‘lower-level’ job – in other words a pay-cut. If relative pay is what we hold dear, then this is a wound that has cut very deep. If you’ve been through this, then you might still be smarting for years to come, even though you might have gotten your career back on track and strengthening your position (and bank balance.) Being a recession survivor is a thing to be proud of, ain’t it?

Once the recession loses its grip, I am genuinely not sure whether we will look back at survival that way. When you read Seth Godin’s article, and put on the rational hat, there will be a lot to be thankful for. High Salary is a myth we have created, and we buy into out of irrational belief. But let’s face it, to be human is to be irrational.

The Conundrum of High SalaryI think the answer is to stay consistent with how we’re measuring ourselves. If relative pay is our personal Key Performance Indicator, then continue to measure that, but over a longer period of time. A relatively weak position today could prove to be a relatively strong one tomorrow. In other words, we shouldn’t ride the rollercoaster and expect our height not to change. We’re all on the rollercoaster – but sat in different seats. We’ll find that our relative position hasn’t really changed once the volatility subsides.

I am confident that we won’t stop measuring success as a relative position overnight, or for the next few decades. Whilst our entire economic system is measured on growth (and relative growth) then most of us in our endeavour to survive and be great will follow suit. A rational hat tells us that’s crap, and it is, but if we led our lives with that hat permanently fixed upon our heads then we’re denying our own humanity. It’s a true conundrum.

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