“Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, when I was dead broke man I couldn’t picture this…” -Notorious B.I.G.
I used to make good money. Like, really good money. Not that I was rich or inordinately wealthy nor was I taking breaks during the day to swim in my giant Scrooge McDuck-style money bin, but it was a decent sum nonetheless. Paydays were a positive affirmation of the work I had done and the career I had assembled through both hard work and some dumb luck. I’d managed to make steady progress over the years and on the first and fifteenth I got a token reminder directly deposited into my checking account. It was never a reward in my mind, it was fair compensation for what I was doing, who I was doing it for and why I it was getting done; proof of worth to an agency and an industry.
The thing they always say about money is that it can’t buy happiness, and I can totally agree with that. I’ve never had a cold night alone where I looked at my bank balance and found some need in my life suddenly fulfilled by its presence. There’s never been a time that any of my deepest insecurities have been resolved with just a few bucks. Money doesn’t work that way, it isn’t the savior from your problems. What I will say though, is that money can finance the aspirational lifestyle that some of us have been working toward since we sat at our first desk or set up our first outgoing office voicemail message. It doesn’t buy happiness, but it does get you a better meal at The Palm than you’d get at Wendy’s.
I think that’s why rappers talk about it so much. From Special Ed’s I Got It Made to whatever song Lil Wayne put out last week, the concept of financial security and even financial lunacy has been a longstanding hallmark of the genre and the culture. A culture built by people who didn’t have who saw the lives of those who had and then took their skills and talents to make a buck off of rhyming words. Some made millions and some still work at UPS. That’s the thing about Hip Hop, it seemed to democratize wealth among those with marginal access or skills to succeed elsewhere. All you need is a pen, a pad and a mouth and you can call yourself a rapper. You might not be very good at it, but the tools needed to enter the field are fairly simple to acquire; and that’s important if you’re coming from a place where the ability to acquire much of anything is abridged by reality.
“The streets is a short stop. Either you’re slingin’ crack rocks or you got a wicked jumpshot…” -Notorious B.I.G.
Money doesn’t buy happiness, but the game is rigged enough that the things that can seemingly make you happy just so happen to cost money. That’s why we work every day and that’s why the paycheck is so important. When I get paid it’s not like I take my check and run out and buy and iPad every month or cop a new car twice a year. I don’t want to do that. But when you get paid well regularly, you don’t get used to accumulating things, instead you get used to the idea of the ability to accumulate things. The only way you find out that money doesn’t buy happiness is after you’ve had the ability to test that hypothesis and then been able to manipulate the variables in such a way that it finances some type of passion in your life.
It’s not the money that makes you happy; it’s the access and the ability that comes from it. It’s not the answer to your problems, but it’s a facilitator of solutions.
When you’re actively seeking jobs and doing freelance work, you’re constantly bombarded with people asking you how much you think you or your time is worth. There’s a need to affix a dollar sign to what they think you can and expect you to do and you’re stuck trying to do a fair market assessment of your skills and their price.
This is an pretty straight forward proposition if you’re a carpenter or a plumber. You know how much your materials will cost, how much time it will take and how much most people are willing to pay to get their bathrooms tiled, cabinets resurfaced or toilets cleared. But there’s also a added premium of urgency in that, once a project is started, people want it done quickly since it’s an inconvenience to have half of a bathroom or limited access to your kitchen or, there’s an emergency and someone needs a plumber or an electrician in the middle of the night. Contractors have you by the balls because they’ve either destroyed something in your house that only they can fix or you’ve destroyed something in your house that you thought you could fix and now you need them to fix.
People will call a plumber before they call a doctor because taking two Advil is easier than snaking a drain.
Not so much in advertising.
In the ad game, a lot of people are convinced that they can do it all and secretly wish someone would recognize it. You think that you have the next big idea for a creative execution, even though you’re a Media Buyer. You think that we need to ask the client for more money, even though you’re an Account Coordinator. You think that the Media people are moving too slow, even if you’re an Account Planner. Whatever the case may be, if someone in another department is doing something, you think that you can do it, and if needed, you could do it better. But that doesn’t work nor should it work that way. That assumption that the next person’s job is easier or somehow you’re job is more important makes for an internal game of one-upsmanship where one party or another devalues the worth of the rest of the team. They think they can do it all. We think we can do it all. How hard can it be?
The three words rarely, if ever, uttered at an ad agency are, “I don’t know.”
This idea of knowing how to do it all or thinking you can do it all is dangerous to everyone on the team. Not just in the sense that it can cause strife or conflict from people encroaching onto others’ territory, but because it doesn’t assess a fair market value for the work or the contributions of others. Why should we pay these Media people so much money when all they do all day is place ads in magazines, can’t anyone do that? Why are those Account people making all that money when all they do is push paper and cajole the client, can’t anyone do that? How much are we giving these creatives to sit around and draw pictures all day, can’t we get someone to do it cheaper? We use our perception to assess the cost of a skill rather than using our real lack of ability to do that skill as a benchmark for it’s worth. Let me put it another way…
We never want to pay the plumber, but when the toilet gets too clogged we damn the plunger.
My point here is twofold:
On one hand it’s important to realistically look at how much money you personally think you’re worth. When someone asks you your salary expectations or wants to know what your day rate is, you need to look at your resume and your ability to contribute and make a rational accounting of your worth. If not, you’ll wind up being underpaid with some feelings of under-appreciation from those around you who don’t know what you’re really contributing OR, even worse, you may wind up being overpaid and put a target on your back for when you’re exposed for being less than adequate or in over your head with a job. I’ve done both and neither are pleasant; you’re either pissed off or confused all day and you don’t get things done as well as you can.
On the other hand, it’s important to look around at those around you and understand what they’re worth in making your job easier. Yeah, you *think* you can do it all, but even if you could, would you want to? Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you can do it well and/or should be doing it at all (ask my wife about the floor tiles in Texas, she’ll tell you). Some things are worth paying for and some skills are going to cost you if you want them to be executed correctly. This means salary negotiations or scoping out day rates are also rationally tied to what you really need. Don’t low-ball someone on salary because you think that the market is soft and you can. That person will only work as hard as the next job that pays them marginally more. Also, don’t low-ball someone on freelance because they’re desire or willingness to be a serious contributor to the team shouldn’t be abridged by their constant need to look at their watch and think that they’re not making enough to be at the office that early in the morning or that late at night.
It’s the unwritten understanding between the homeowner and the contractor; I’m not going to pay too much for this service, but if I try to be too cheap, I’ll get what I pay for.
The same thing goes for agencies and potential employees; I’ll pay you what you say you’re worth, but I better get what I paid for.
Pay the plumber or damn the plunger… and that works both ways.
Being properly compensated for a fair days work or a fair exchange of goods and/or services is the cornerstone of capitalism. It’s the pitch and yaw of the free market system; the invisible hand of enterprise that generates revenue and profit. It’s the American way.
People don’t immediately associate the words capitalism and happiness as synonyms, because they aren’t. Money can’t buy happiness and the pursuit of it is mostly stressful. People don’t want to just have money for having money’s sake. People want access.
It’s the access to people, places and things that drives the sophomore in college to study for that stats test just as it’s the access to people, places and things that drives the kid on the South Side to try to commit pen to paper and write a rhyme. They know that being good at something should be and could quite possibly worth a lot. What they don’t know, however, is that the worth of work or the monetary assessment of a good job is a two way street of realistic understanding of what you do, how well you do it, and how that contributes to the success of others. Does giving you money make someone else money or does giving someone else money make you money.
I can’t make that call for others. But for me I know that I’m more inclined to work for my worth and be worth my work than I would be to shortchange myself or my employer. I want my money, but I want to make sure you’re getting what you pay for. So when I start working full time again, I’ll have a better understanding of what that means and hopefully my potential employer will as well. They don’t need to pay for my happiness, but they do need to guarantee that they won’t overcharge me with stress.
I just want to get paid.
“Mo’ money. Mo problems.” -Notorious B.I.G.