The Zen of being underpaid

At various times in our life we’ve all had jobs where we feel either overpaid, or underpaid for what we deliver. If we ask any rational capitalist what they’d prefer, you can be certain they’d rather be over paid. Who wouldn’t choose a cosy, comfortable gig with good pay and easy output?

I’ve been in both places personally, and over the years I’ve been thinking about personal economics and relative happiness. I‘ve come to the conclusion that I’d rather be underpaid. Which seems crazy and irrational, but when it is considered in the context of what delivers real happiness it does make sense. My primary view on happiness and contentment in life is that it is not based on now. Rather, it is based on our expectations of our future position. This is most easily explained by considering how I’ve personally felt when I’ve been in these two juxtaposed earning positions.

When overpaid:

While being overpaid we know we are not creating justifiable value for our cost. We feel like we have tricked someone in the system. It feels like we are eventually going to be found out. We know this because the economic system doesn’t support it in the long run. The system loves and rewards efficiency. Which in turn puts us at risk of being, replaced, removed or made redundant. We know this and it starts to effect our psyche. We stress over it and start to worry about our future. And even worse, we don’t progress intellectually, we decline in confidence and effort. Or much worse, we become lazy and complacent – enjoy consumption instead of contribution and start to feel entitled. But in reality, the future looks darker than the present.

When underpaid:

When we are paid below market rates we know we are valuable. We create more than we cost. It makes us feel valued as contributors, even if we know they are getting the better end of the financial deal. But it also makes us hungry to prove our worth. We want to show them or make them realise what we deliver. And in order to do this we work harder and become hungry. It too effects our psyche, but in a much more positive manner. We believe in ourselves, and set on a path to prove ourselves. The Zen part about being underpaid is that we can sleep a lot better at night. We can do this because we know the market needs people like us, and very often pay more for it. So we have clear exit paths if they are required.  Our minds and the world open up to the possibilities of our skill base. The future looks brighter than the present.

It’s much the same when we found a startup. We know that we must create value before we can extract it. Which is really what we should aim for in all things we do – deliver more than we take back. In fact, we should be thankful if we live in a perpetual state of over delivery. That way we can ensure that we will always have a valued place in the market.


Open pay display

I think companies should have everyone’s pay on display. A publicly available intranet site in alphabetical order with every employees name, salary and benefits next to it. Ok, so this is a bit of a shift from the secret salary world we currently live in. It might even cause a little bit of a distraction in the short term. But one thing is for sure, it will move our society to a far more accountable culture than we currently have.

Let’s consider for a moment the type of behaviour this is likely stimulate:

  • “I work harder than Joey, and he earns $20,000 more!”
  • “I want a pay rise”
  • “Holy shit, I better start working harder, I’ve been found out.”
  • “I wont get a pay rise in years”
  • “She doesn’t deserve that”
  • “Why do sales people earn so much?”
  • “Our company is a rip off, they don’t pay well”
  • “I can’t believe how little Mary earns, she’s a gun”
  • “I’m gonna work my ass off to get that job – I never knew I could earn that much!”

I really believe the initial chaos would lead to a better and more transparent workplace. One where everyone understands their role, impact and the investment the company makes in its people.

In my next startup, this will be policy number one. Total transparency in all financial documents, including salaries.


Top 10 financial hacks

There is no point being a successful entrepreneur, or selling a startup if we have no idea how to handle the money we get. So here is my top 10 financial life hacks.

  1. Spend less than you earn, no matter what that amount is. The net result is happiness.
  2. Allocate cash to savings & investments before anything the day you get your profits, pay or dividends.
  3. Never go into debt for anything which does not appreciate in value.
  4. The real definition of an Asset: Anything that puts money in your pocket. The accounting definition of an asset is flawed.
  5. Do not trade stocks. Trading makes the broker and tax man rich and you poor.
  6. The greatest financial instrument is ‘compounding’. It only happens when we hold assets, not by trading them.
  7. If you can’t afford a consumer product in cash, you can’t afford it.
  8. There is no such thing as ‘financial engineering’. It was invented by Wall street to trick you.
  9. The best type of share investment is an Index Fund. They are investments in civilization. If that fails, we have bigger worries than our money.
  10. Invest more in education than entertainment & ‘things’ and you will outdo society financially.


Wasting money

As we embark on new projects we hope will be the one, a lot of money gets invested. Hard earned money we’ve saved from busting out a living on week days. The left over money after we’ve paid the mortgage and paid the bills. Sadly, much of it never returns. It’s easy to feel cheated when our projects don’t pay off.

But let’s for a few moments consider the alternatives:

A flat screen TV

Dinner at fancy restaurants

A better car

A new gadget for the kitchen

Other stuff which will eventually gather dust


Turns out the money we lost in startup projects was never really wasted. In fact, it wasn’t lost at all. It’s the investment we have to make to get that elusive win. The alternatives are very poor substitutes with zero chance of a return. Which means we should never be afraid of investing in our projects. What we should really be afraid of is succumbing to pointless consumption.