I grew up in what would be considered the center of middle class. We never had a problem getting food or paying the house payment. We always had a new outfit when school started. And there were two cars in the driveway.
It only took a trip to Mexico (not far from my Southern California home) or years later, a vacation to Jamaica, to cause me to tell my dad that we were rich. He wouldn't hear it. Mostly because there were people who were far more wealthy than we were.
I went to a high school where seniors had their own parking lot, and the cars in it were luxury vehicles (Porsche) and expensive trucks. It made the teacher's parking lot look pitiful.
I tell you all this to explain that even though there were a few moments where I felt like we were wealthy, most of my time growing up I felt like we were broke. We weren't, but I wasn't driving a Porsche, so I felt it.
When you feel poor, or at least poor by comparison, the only thing you want is money. I spent a lot of time growing up thinking about money. What I would do when I had it. What I wanted to buy. And even what I needed to do to earn it.
Money is not the answer.
In fact, often it just creates a different set of challenges. One of those challenges is that it's easier and faster to spend it than to earn it. That makes money feel elusive.
Today I want to share with you an insight that was shared with me when I was just getting started working. And it changed everything about how I thought about money. It also changed how I thought about my job, work, and career.
It's about your move valuable skill.
My mentor at Berkeley Lab, a guy named Dennis Hall, was a brilliant dude. I don't know what he saw in me or why he did it, but he literally plucked me out of the job I was doing at the Lab and brought me over to his group to invest in me.
It changed everything for me. But it all started with a discussion about my most valuable skill.
This is what he said to me,
“Your most valuable skill is the ability to create value. People will pay for that.”
It would require hours and hours of further thought and discussion for me to get it. But let me see if I can break it down for you in a simple way, now that I've spent decades reflecting on it – and the world has made this easier and more true than ever.
Most of us say we want to work smart not hard. But then we spend a lot of hours working hard. Right?
We work hard, and expect to earn money. But in that reality, we're getting paid for manual labor. We don't think of it that way, because we're in our own home or in an air-conditioned office. And we think of manual labor as digging a ditch. But we're putting in hours and getting paid for those hours.
We're using our time and effort to earn money.
Our most valuable skill is creating value. Because people will pay for that.
- It might be a thought, written down.
- It might be an algorithm, that gets patented.
- It might be a course, that teaches skills.
- You might create a conference.
When you create value, and I'm talking about something that other people value, they'll pay for it. And they're paying for the value, not for the labor.
When I was a kid, if we wanted something extra, my mom would go to work. She'd get a job and earn the extra money to pay for whatever we needed. It's the way things worked.
But today, if I need more money, I can create value. And sell it. I can publish an ebook, spin up a new course, or provide some coaching.
Because my most valuable skill is creating value.
When I forget that, and trade hours and effort for pay, I am working sub-optimally.
The change for me, as I learned this, was that I worried less and less about money. Instead, I worried that I wasn't keeping up the skills to keep creating value. Because I knew how important it was and is to create value.
You don't need money. You need a way to create value.
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