We can see through the glassdoor, read salary guides and get detailed information on what other people are paid for what kinds of jobs. Yet, whatever we earn we could earn more. It doesn’t stop and gets worse.

We are an ocean of possibilities

We will never been paid enough, our peers are never paid enough and hiring companies can never pay enough. We can always find someone paid more, and we can always find another example of someone just like us who is already a millionaire. We will never be paid enough.

The world is changing in an interesting way. In the past, we could only benchmark our salaries against our peers; often within the same company or neighborhood. Now we can benchmark our pay globally. Across most functions, industries and skills, we can quickly get an idea of a global average pay (tools like: http://www.payscale.com/ or http://www.glassdoor.com/). We can spend hours benchmarking friends, colleagues and dissecting the high-end and low-end of every market. Whilst the information is not exact, it at least gives us an 80% ballpark figure.

It feeds itself

The globalized world feeds off of this constant desire for more. Employers tap it to constantly hire the “best” people in the market by offering more. Retailers dangle more with fancy products, technology and flashy nobs (products that can offer us “more” of the things those products take away). Banks entice with more offering us access to just a bit more with an easy repayment plan.

This is all happening with a background of media with the college-dropout-turned-billionaire-who-looks-just-like-me story of the week. There will always be someone, somewhere getting paid more. The worst part? We now know it; often we even know who it is. We are inside their house, looking at their bank statement and performance reviews.

We could be paid more, and we will never be paid enough. We are clearly lost in an ocean of possibilities. There is always somewhere better.

If I could always be paid more, if I could always be in a different job, if I have constant choices… What am I really looking for? What will satisfy me if money is “never enough”?

I struggle with this and have realized that a “fair deal” is the most important thing to me. Similar to the concept of Principled Negotiation that I’ve used for the last four years to negotiate and close candidates and clients.

In this ocean of possibilities, I strive to agree something that is fair and principled for the role, company, location and myself. That is what I care about, and that is what you should care about too.

Build a boat and find your “fair”

So what is fair? How do we find a fair salary and a fair position when we are swimming in an ocean of possibilities? We consider how we want to build our lives; our boats.

Where do you want your life to take you? What kind of boat do you want to build?
A boat needs a hull that can float. You need to define what your floating point is. How much money on a monthly basis meets your needs for your life. Once you have a floating number, you can also think about what changes you are willing to make if desired. Would you downgrade your house if you could spend more time at home? Would you buy different products, if you could take a trip once a year?

A boat needs a rudder that can steer the boat in the right direction. You need to define what principles define you. How much do you want to work each day? What kind of company, what location, what kind of job? For me it is an environment where I’m given support, yet treated as an equal and evaluated fairly. I want freedom to experiment. I want a focused market and function to develop and build. And I want flexibility to spend time with my family when I need to and an environment that respects that.

A boat needs a sail or another source of power. You need to define what motivates you and why you work. What is your objective in life, why do you work? Is it family, a sense of accomplishment or satisfaction? For me it is the fundamental value in what I’m doing. I’m motivated by the recognition that what I’ve done has added value and that I’ve done something in the best way in which it could have been done.

Once you have built your boat, you can sail through the ocean of possibilities and evaluate each option that comes along. Will my boat still float, can I sail in that direction and do I have the fuel to get there?

When do you say no?

Your boat also gives you an important part of any salary negotiation. It gives you a breaking point. No matter how wonderful the role is, if your boat won’t float, you will drown. And it gives you a filter on company culture and environments. No matter how high the salary, if you don’t have fuel, you will starve and die.

You can build a boat for every offer you get or every job you apply for. As you can see, you will need a different boat for each job; if you need to relocate, if your partner would stop working, if you have another child. Your boat gets remodeled, rebuilt and changes with your life and choices.

Start with what you are

You should start by drawing your boat for your present role. Can you change direction, add more fuel or enhance your hull without changing jobs? Sometimes the best option is the one we have, with a few repairs and a new coat of paint.

The first time I did this, the job floated my boat, fit the direction I want to sail and filled my tank every day. Within a year, the company management changed, the corporate strategy moved and I was fired.

My boat was burning and I needed to start over. While I worked contract and short-term projects I started to figure out what kind of boat I wanted to build. Almost two years later, I’m still figuring it out. I will struggle with my desires and abilities for the rest of my life.

Where do you want to go?

You and I only get one chance at life. I would prefer to spend mine sailing through the ocean, rather than comparing boats in the dock.