What's Your Real Currency?

Your Real Currency

Your Real Currency is the way you get paid by work that's not money. In our personal lives, we spend time thinking about this--what do we do with our "free time"--and there is a whole self-help section in the bookstore dedicated to finding those things that can make our life more meaningful and fulfilled. But what about our work currency? Why do you do what you do, beyond money? What makes you feel the most rewarded? And how can you do more of it?

You see, our job descriptions should not be our life descriptions. Or to put it another way: make a life, not a living. When we get paid in our Real Currency, life gets a lot more interesting, a lot less stressful and a lot more meaningful and rewarding.

A few years back, I had the opportunity to learn a powerful lesson (see my TEDx on Life 2.0) about what's truly important. I learned what I value and how to get more of it. It has not been easy work, but it has been simple work. And there's a big difference.

As a result of this journey, I learned what my Real Currency is: it's seeing the light go on in someone's eyes. That may not sound rewarding to you, but for me there's nothing better than seeing someone "get" something they never got before, be inspired, feel supported, find their passion, or see them understand the difference they can make. It's my Real Currency. It's why I do what I do. Which also means there are a handful of fields where I can get paid in that currency all the time, such as speaking, training, coaching, mentoring and Instagram influencing. I'm obviously not cool or young enough to be an influencer, so the rest is my space. That's why I do what I do: because of my Real Currency.

Your Currency is likely different. Maybe it's time with family and friends, and the more of that you get, the more rewarded you feel. Or maybe it's regular public recognition for a job well done, or the ability to positively influence someone's life, or maybe it's having the time and freedom to travel or its safety and security. The list goes on. Be honest with yourself. Our Real Currency motivations are as limitless as we are. But once we find our Currency, then it becomes about getting it.

How do I get more of it?

Once we know what it is, figure out how to get more of it...and make a living! For example, if you decide that setting and achieving goals is a way to get paid in your Real Currency, cross-reference that with jobs that will pay you for doing that, such as transactional sales. You like to know that the world is ordered and makes sense? You might try to find your way towards accounting or data science. If you care about personal time, make sure your next job has flexible hours or alternative work schedules.

Now, also consider those fields where you might have a comparative advantage. Or ones where you can develop a comparative advantage. This is where you might shine. For me, I have long experience with government innovation, sustainability and I'm not afraid of speaking my mind, which gives me a comparative advantage in those arenas. However, if I went out to be a leadership trainer, I'm just one of many. So the question becomes what do you need to do to improve or develop your comparative advantage?

Once you know where you have an advantage, the next question becomes what you need to do to get that job that pays you in your Real Currency, as well as the more traditional legal tender. Whatever you determine your Currency is, require of yourself that your next opportunity will move you closer to receiving it, if not downright pay you in it. Don't just move "forward" in your career progression ladder because an opportunity is placed in front of you. Don't just say yes to more money without asking about your Real Currency.

If you happen to be in a field that pays you (or is close to paying you) in your Real Currency, it might just be that you need to make a minor shift to get more of it. For example, if you value time away from the office with your family, you can speak with your boss about alternative work schedules, flex schedules, a sabbatical or working remote. If your office is not amenable to that, make sure the next job you search for is. It's okay to know what you want and negotiate for it.

If travel is important, look for positions that allow (or even require) more travel. If achievement is important, look for positions that allow you to shine in public ways. If camaraderie is important, find jobs where you can have more collegiality and familiarity. You get the idea.

Find the pivot position

But oftentimes, through the journey of life, we find ourselves a long way away from being able to earn our Real Currency. That means we might need to pivot in our careers to get there. A pivot position is taking a job that puts you closer to what you're looking to do to earn your Real Currency.

If you need to take a pivot position to get more experience, that's okay as long as you're moving closer to your Real Currency. If you need to do something to gain additional credibility or create an important comparative advantage, do that with your pivot. If you need to get additional education, start planning now. Be intentional. The point of the pivot position is to prepare you to get a job that pays you in a very real way. This may require sacrifice for a period of time to gain your advantage or get your knowledge, but it moves you closer to earning Real Currency.

Make your Real Currency happen

The truth is, we don't like money, we like what money can provide: time, flexibility, safety, power or security to name a few. We don't value the commodity of cash; we value what it can do for us. And it doesn't feed our souls. But we value Real Currency. If we get paid in that every day, we'll likely feel fulfilled, energized and engaged, and we don't need money to do that. So, once you know what it is that truly makes it all worthwhile, take the time to make it happen. Apply for the job. Create the job. Negotiate the job. You're not an imposter, you're prepared. Have a list of things you'll negotiate on--and those you won't. Make a leap of faith and ask for what you're worth but know how you really want to get paid before you ask.

Isn't it time to get paid? 

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