Does income matter?
Scratch that; of course it matters. The question should be, "how much does income matter".
MSN careers published Parade Magazine's "What People Earn-2008" today. The story was shocking.
Glen Heroy, 45, a hospital clown, earned $28,000 last year; Dean McIlvaine, 50, a farmer, earned $30,000. Brian Leachman, 34, a car sales manager, made $205,000, and Jeannete Lee, 36, a billiards player, earned $650,000. Trouble, 8, a Leona Helmsley's dog, earned a sweet $12 million. Timothy Janus, 31, a competitive eater (one of my favorites) earned $25,000 (he did say, though, that while his job was not a high paying job, it's VERY filling). And Brian Prigel, 48, the mayor of Bingen, Washington, made a paltry $3,600.
And then there's Miley Cyrus, 15, singer/actress (of Hannah Montana fame), who made an astonishing $18.2 million. Mary-Kate Olsen, 21, actress (and twin) made $17 million. Jeff Foxworthy, 49, comedian, made $10 million, and John Paulson, 52, a hedge-fund manager made a heart-stopping $3.5 billion (yeah, with a "B").
I read this and my initial reaction was plain old indignation. How DARE Eli Manning (the 27 year old quarterback for the New York Giants) make $11.5 million, while I, an immensely valuable corporate flunky slave away here for a respectable sum of money (but far closer to Mayor Prigel's salary than Mr. Manning's). I'm a businessperson (and a great writer to boot); I MUST be providing more value than some guy who tosses around a leather ball for a few hours 13 times a year.
And for goodness' sake: Miley Cyrus? She's a talented girl, don't get me wrong, but if THAT voice (at 15) is worth $18 million plus, mine MUST be worth at least $8 mil or so, don't you think?
So what's the deal? Am I just getting ripped off?
You feel it too, don't you? Don't feel bad; it's a natural reaction. We, who labor day after day in the trenches for what seems, comparatively, to be a paltry sum, feel shafted when we hear about Jeff Foxworthy earning more money than he knows what to do with for telling a few redneck jokes.
Is Miley Cyrus that amazing a talent? Are Foxworthy's jokes really THAT funny? Does a dog EVEN CARE that he makes oodles of cash?
Probably not. But then Mr. Paulson (the hedge-fund manager) must REALLY be providing some unique value; I know what he's doing there in NY is FAR beyond me. So maybe he does deserve that heinous amount of money.
See there? I did it. I told myself I wouldn't. I started talking about what he "deserves" vs. what I "deserve". "Deserve" really has nothing to do with it, does it? The simple fact is, someone feels they're that valuable, so they pay them.
The larger question, in my mind, is, assuming I WISH to earn more, what do I need to do in order to "deserve" it? One of two things, in my opinion.
Option 1: Do something amazing--and do it way better than anyone else. Make it something that very few people can do (kinda like sticking 18 quarters in your nose, come to think of it). The truth of the matter is, people (mostly middle-aged, beer-bellied men) love to watch men throw a football around. And if the guy they're watching do it can do it particularly well, they're willing to pay a goodly sum of cash to watch. Mr. Manning, since he's the guy who does it well, gets a good chunk of that.
The same goes for Mr. Paulson (that hedge-fund guy). I imagine that he hedges funds better than virtually anyone on the planet (and there are very few fund hedgers to begin with, so he's one of an elite few).
The point is, provide EXCLUSIVE value, and you'll be well-compensated for it.
That, though, doesn't explain Mr. Foxworthy (my friend Kevin is FAR funnier than Mr. Foxworthy...sometimes). Which brings us to...
Option 2: Market yourself religiously. Make people want to pay you for whatever it is you do. It's OK if you're not the greatest; make people FEEL like you are. Do you really think the anorexic Olsen twins are really that amazing as actresses (come to think of it, they don't act anymore, do they)? No. The truth is, they had a parent (or two) who marketed the poor girls shamelessly. They were adorable, but not THAT adorable (and now they're just downright creepy).
THIS is why I push you so hard to tell others about MyndFood. I give cards out constantly. I tell folks about the blog everywhere I go. I realize that I'm likely not the greatest, most enthralling writer to ever come down the pike. But if I can make people FEEL like it, that's all it takes to get them to visit. I, obviously, need to be good enough to keep them engaged, but I don't have to be the best around. I just have to reach more people than the best around.
This all begs the question, though: how much does the income really matter? Do I really NEED $18 million per year? No; I don't. Nor does anyone. But it does mean something, I think. Not because I want to be wealthy; comfort is good, wealth is optional. But income is, in a sense, a score. It tells you how much value you're providing. And it means something.
But then, it shouldn't mean everything. Edward Perry, 29, the peace corps volunteer who makes $2,900 per year must be doing it for some deeper reason than the "score". The truth is, the healthiest among us, regardless their income, receive some measure of satisfaction from their jobs. Dottie Martin said it well in the article. The best jobs, she says, provide emotional as well as financial rewards.
Which leads me to believe there's an opposite extreme. Mr. Perry must reap an enormous emotional reward from volunteering in the peace corps, but he receives virtually no financial reward. I wonder how much emotional value Mr. Paulson (the fund hedger) receives in conjunction with his $3.5 billion. Or, more importantly, how much financial reward must a person receive in order to trade any prospect of emotional reward?
The ideal situation, I think, is a career that provides you a high level of emotional satisfaction, coupled with a financial "score" that says you're providing high value. It's why I aspire to writing: there's a potential for a decent (if not very good) income there, and the act of writing is one of the most rewarding things I've ever done.
The question remains, though: how much emotional satisfaction would you trade away for a higher income? What would it take in order for you to embark on an emotionally empty career?
I'd like to ask someone who did whether or not it was worth it. My gut says probably not.