Is a product really worth what someone will pay for it?

I recently had reason to compare the work of people at opposite ends of the work-related pay scales that our society has developed.  At one extreme are those who do high level roles within organisations and at the other end are people who care for the sick, elderly, disabled and otherwise vulnerable in our society.  The former tend to earn large amounts of money.  For example, the high-level executive earning a six-figure salary or even the Chief Executive earning millions.  The latter often earn minimum wage or not much more.

Millions?, you might ask.  What can anyone do in a year to justify an annual salary of millions?  It may seem obvious why the work of a Surgeon or an Airline Pilot may justify a six figure salary.  However, with respect to many of those who earn much more for their role in large organisations their work is often nebulous, e.g. in reality leadership may be dependent to some extent on the performance of deputies.  Becoming a Surgeon or an Airline Pilot requires achieving clear markers and maintaining an objectively measured level of performance.  For other organisational roles, gaining the position may be grounded on “networking” skills and there is much media evidence of performance not being commensurate with reward.

What is the relevance of all of this to a PhD researcher considering their future career.  Well, a fundamental consideration is the salary and other rewards associated with any given opportunity.  The examples I refer to above are at the extremes, either very well paid or very poorly paid.  The point I strive to make is that the relationship between pay and “contribution to society” is not always clear.  Within the context of expectations, one’s own and key others such as parents, contemporaries etc…, salary is a consideration when considering a future career direction.  Should I go for something I am passionate about, which is not relatively well paid or should I go for something better paid but may not be my heart’s desire.

Salary is often associated with status, which may impact how the world views us, the kind of house we live in and even the mate we attract.  However, when old age comes the only one who will have travelled any person’s life-road is that person.  Rather than close this blog input myself I will leave you with one of my favourite poems, “The Guy in the Glass”, by Dale Wimbrow.

When you get what you want in your struggle for self,
And the world makes you King for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that guy has to say.

For it isn’t your Father, or Mother, or Wife,
Who judgement upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back from the glass.

He’s the feller to please, never mind all the rest,
For he’s with you clear up to the end,
And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the guy in the glass is your friend.

You may be like Jack Horner and “chisel” a plum,
And think you’re a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum
If you can’t look him straight in the eye.

You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears
If you’ve cheated the guy in the glass.

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Martin Coffey

About Martin Coffey

Career Management Skills Developer, Researcher Development Team.

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