How Being Underpaid Helped Me Recognize My Worth

Knowing her value got this woman her dream job.

What if I told you that it’s possible to jump ship at your current job and get paid $30K more than you are making now, work less, get better benefits and have a much shorter commute?

If you’d asked my younger self that five years ago, she would have laughed. But here’s why I’m laughing all the way to the bank.

Click to read more about high-paying jobs you didn’t know existed.

In my work as a psychotherapist, you can’t make real money unless you’re licensed. That is, if you want to practice your craft as you learned in graduate school. So, I did just that. I planned my next five to ten years out, which meant working toward licensure for two years.

Once I got my license, that’s when it all opened up for me. I could continue to practice as a psychotherapist, or go the administrative route and essentially become a paper pusher. I took the latter, mostly because I like how the title sounded.

But I soon felt stuck.

Read: How One Woman Used Networking to Earn a Higher Wage

While I knew this lofty position came with some egotistical prestige because of the title, I also knew the paltry salary was causing me to lose more money in the long run. And that was a non-starter for me. I calculated how long it would take for me to reach the salary of a vice president, as that was my next step if I toughed it out with the company, and it turned out to be 23 years.

Twenty-three years of 60-hour work weeks (including weekends), doing paperwork that made me sick knowing I could be audited at virtually any time since we’re beholden to several federal grant programs. On top of that, the executives at the company I was working with acquiesced to toxic co-workers who created a culture reminiscent of a ninth-grade junior high school cafeteria. It wasn’t a healthy place to work, to say the least.

More on Positive Work Environments: Stress Reduction Programs and Other Things Your Employer Owes You

Some of you might think 60-hour work weeks are nothing because you may be struggling with 80-hour-plus work weeks. But here’s the thing about that — it’s toxic. The more you work, the less you’re effectively paid. The less time you have for yourself, family and personal pursuits that keep the balance of career and self-care alive.

I felt like a hypocrite both as a psychotherapist and a financial blogger (my other job). Here I am preaching self-care and knowing your worth, and I was doing neither.

I finally realized that there was no way I was going to stay at a company that did not value hard work and paid their C-suite vastly more money than they paid me and my colleagues, who were just one step behind them. There were always excuses around funding and annual budgets, but as a nonprofit, we were privy to the salary of all top-level executives, so I more than understood what was happening.

I was overworked, painfully underpaid and in a toxic environment with high turnover. And here I was holding on for a title.

My only option for growth at this company was to move up to vice president. However, there were only four to six total positions, and just one likely to open soon. The VPs usually retired in that role, so they were hard openings to come by. There was also no guarantee that I’d get the job when a position did become open.

Discover: High-Paying Jobs That Won’t Kill You

After that realization, I didn’t care about my title anymore. I was so steeped in paperwork that it was easy to forget the mission I signed up for in the first place.

I ended up jumping ship to what I now see as my “dream job” since leaving graduate school. I am doing the work I love, minimal paperwork and less work in general, and have the brightest colleagues, who I see as family. The best part? Immediate salary bump which eventually turned into a $30K hike from the previous position. Not to mention a shorter commute and much better benefits.

Being underpaid made me question my own value. It made me understand that I am damn good at what I do and I deserved more.

What You Can Do

Look at your salary over the last five years. Are you on track with where you thought you’d be at this time? Are you settling with your current financial status because you don’t think you can or should make more money? It’s OK to want more. I am giving you permission to want more. Take it all if you can. Making the decision to leave a job where I was one step away from becoming a vice president was a difficult one. However, I couldn’t reconcile all the money I’d be losing had I chosen to stay.

Once I jumped ship, my stress levels went down, and I was able to do my best work with clients in a way that I’d always wanted. I had to learn how to value myself first in the realm of self-care, and then the money came.

Sometimes we conjure up stories to justify the crappy money decisions we’ve made. But even in that, there’s always a lesson. For me, if I didn’t have that experience I wouldn’t know today what it means to value myself, the work that I do and the skills I bring to the table.

Click through to read more about the phrases that mean no raise is in your future.