Ep. 58 – The (Important) Difference Between Value vs. Worth

I was catching up with a longtime friend this past weekend. We worked together for nearly a decade, during which time she held different roles across three continents. She was super talented and now she is pursuing a degree in a field which she has long been passionate about and is loving being in a learning environment. 

She’s also looking for professional opportunities and was telling me how she’s applied to many, many roles and isn’t getting anywhere. 

“What’s wrong with me?” she said. 

The challenge for her in this case is that she is ascribing her personal value to being selected for current positions. Value, by its very nature, belongs to us. It got me thinking about the difference between value and worth and why it’s easy for us to question both when we don’t see signals that match our intrinsic settings and extrinsic aspirations. 

The essence of ‘value’ encompasses what we consider to be significant and important whereas ‘worth’ is a broad reflection of current costs or market conditions. Both range frequently and aren’t set to a universal template since there are so many variables. 

However, worth often can be aligned to changes in supply and demand, such as when gas or grocery prices swell due to geographic or economic elements. I may not value a carton of eggs at the price they are currently worth, so I make different decisions until the worth adjusts back to my desired value range. 

But back to the case of my friend, it’s human nature to seek validation in our skills, services, and self- based on whatever market in front of us is saying those things are worth. Sometimes those elements intersect but, oftentimes, we are navigating a nebulous ecosystem. 

The Bottom Line on Top of this episode is that if we aren’t clear on our value, we’re likely to believe what other sources say we are worth.  

I’ve seen this in my time in my corporate career when I oversaw hundreds of offers to candidates, and I’ve seen it personally as a speaker and entrepreneur. I’ve been turned down for an engagement that paid $1,000 US dollars and I’ve been paid more than $30,000 for the same effort. Same me, different worths. Sure, it’s fun to feel we’re getting as much as (or more than) what something is worth but part of that is tied to elements out of our control. 

This is something I first learned back in the late 1990s. I was working at a publishing company that produced magazines tied to pop culture. I was assigned to run a monthly publication all about the beanie baby craze-remember that? I knew very little about this space and soon was getting educated about the wide world of collectibles. From plush toys to trading cards to Pez dispensers, there were buyers and sellers across the spectrum.  

I sat in meetings with tycoons and also wandered around international exhibit halls, all the while watching the economy of emotions as deals were made. 

“I don’t get it,” I said one day to my publisher. “I can’t seem to figure out how the vendors are determining what each thing is worth.”

“It’s not a determination,” he said. “It’s simply a starting point. It all comes down to what something is worth to someone else.”

Ah, worth here was based on how much it was valued by someone. With this perspective, I saw the exchanges in a different light. A price point is a statement on current worth. And there are often myriad factors that went into it (such as with the supply chain) or it could merely be a starting point for a conversation between potential buyers and sellers. 

Let’s come back to intrinsic value and worth. As a purveyor of our personal interest, how intentional are we with our own starting price? 

We may say our time is valuable for instance but do our actions back it up? How much time do we donate to others or simply neglect to put a value on in the first place? Other people aren’t going to buy what you’re not even selling. 

And be careful who holds the pen up to your price tag. Different opportunities will vary with compensation but that is a decision in which you have an active role – or at least should have full awareness. A true opportunity is when you trade your time and talent for a designated outcome. That’s what it’s worth for what’s being asked…and given. 

Make sure you know the formula going into the calculator. If any part of the calculation is withheld from you, then it’s your value up for sale as much as your time. 

Professional boxer Bernard Hopkins said it this way: “If you don’t know your own value, somebody will tell you your value, and it’ll be less than you’re worth.”

There isn’t a financial formula for how you should transform what you value into what you’re worth. But the world is busy telling us all the ways we can do more, get more by following some other recipe. When I was in college, a friend of mine changed her major from English to business because her boyfriend’s family told her there was no money in words and literature. While they may have believed that to be true, that isn’t a universal truth. Passion and business get to be a Yes And. There is no guarantee of success by choosing one over the other.  

Beware the loud voices that caution against passion as a path and instead offer rewards for comfort and compliance. In a free economy, there will be fluctuations on the what, when, and how much of worth, but it’s up to us to never discount our own value. 

So if you find yourself looking at limited opportunities, remember that it’s simply a snapshot view. Things can and will change. What we are worth to others will also change. Our value, however, is the starting point that only we get to set. 

Invest some time in what you value. It’s one of the best ways you can take good care. And, besides, you’re worth it. 

Your brain is hungry. Give it some intellectual snacks in the
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I'm Kristin

I left my corporate work and dove further into how to navigate this noisy, digital, exhausted world. The result is a methodology centered on communications, productivity, and culture that blends theory with practice and helps people better enjoy the life they worked so hard to get.