How to Avoid the Race to the Bottom

You are worth more than you think.


I recently received an email from LinkedIn with a list of job recommendations. I have worked in education, in various settings, for over fifteen years now, and while I’m not currently seeking employment, I always like to keep abreast of what opportunities are out there. So I clicked on one of the jobs offering remote teaching.


The first thing I noticed was that prior to listing any desired skills or qualifications, the job description read more like a sales pitch. It stated that you could “work from anywhere” and that it offered a “flexible schedule!” All they needed from the applicant was a BA, native English speaker, an upbeat attitude and high-speed internet. Sounds pretty sweet, right? Spoiler alert: if the job description is written to try and sell the applicant on why they should take the job, chances are the salary will be about half of what it should be. Low and behold, I scrolled down and discovered the hourly pay was $12.


I’m sorry, what?!


As a recent college graduate (or even not-so-recent graduate), you may find yourself, at one point or another, living in your parents’ basement and wondering what the hell you’re supposed to do with your life. Maybe you’ve applied to hundreds of jobs with no luck, or you’re desperately trying to get that business idea off the ground. Whatever your endeavor might be, I am here to tell you to resist the urge to make a profile on Fiverr or apply for that job teaching English online for $12 per hour. Seth Godin refers to this as the “race to the bottom,” and he cautions against it. Why? “Because you just might win.”


You may be thinking, “well, at least I could be making something, instead of nothing. So why not dip my toe in the bottom of the pool?” And to that I say, you have way more to offer than the cheapest possible service.


Fiverr is a trap

Recently, a dear friend of mine wrote a book. He is a wonderful writer, but his book was in draft form and needed some serious editing. He was short on cash, so he decided to try his luck hiring an editor on Fiverr. Of course, he found someone with good reviews and very cheap prices, as is the standard on that site. This person charged him $250 to “edit” his 250-page memoir.


After a few weeks, he contacted me and asked if I would be willing to edit his book, as this is something that I do. When I asked about the person he hired on Fiverr, he said he wasn’t happy with the results and felt that it needed another pass.


I dove right into editing and quickly realized that this person had not even read the book. It seemed to me like they had maybe read the first few pages, found a few grammar or spelling errors, did a quick search for those same errors throughout, fixed those, and called it a day.


A good editor takes the time to read every word of the book. They correct errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation, but they also change sentence structure to make it more accessible to readers. They recommend clearer word-choices and cut out superfluous copy. A good editor is someone who cares about what they do and takes their time to do it well. Even if someone is just starting out in the field, if they bring a sense of care, commitment and attention to detail to their work, they deserve to be compensated fairly for it. Why? Because they are doing a good job and providing a quality service.


Education is a human service field

Think back to your schooling days. Chances are, you had at least one great teacher at some point in your life. If you had more than one, you’re lucky.


Now, remember what it was like to be in that teacher’s class. How did you feel? Most likely, you felt engaged, inspired and focused. This teacher probably ignited something inside you and sparked a sense of interest and curiosity in learning.


We know that teachers are underpaid, and this is likely part of the reason why many highly-qualified teachers leave the field (and also likely why you can only think of a few great ones from your time in school, if that).


Many people base their whole career paths on having one great teacher who made them love chemistry, or writing, or drama.


That is the power that we have as human beings when we are doing great work — we inspire those around us.


If, however, we accept that a person teaching children deserves to make $12 per hour, we are completely devaluing and dehumanizing the craft. This is detrimental not only to the field and the teachers in it, but also to the students receiving sub-par educations from teachers who are frustrated by their lack of pay.


It is up to us to value what we bring to the table

Unfortunately, our capitalist society would have us believe that our time is worth very little. It is designed so that the people at the top get richer while the people at the bottom remain there. This is not to say that we should have unrealistic expectations about how much money we will make straight out of college — it is ok to take an entry-level position, but the key phrase here is with room for growth.


If you are working towards building your own business and choose to take a lower-paying gig while you do, I urge you to ask yourself what it is you bring to the table. Are you excellent at building relationships? Do you have great attention to detail? A positive attitude? Creative problem-solving? It is easy to forget that we bring a lot to the table just by showing up and being who we are naturally. The things that come easily to you are valuable and may not come easily to others. Value that. Value yourself. And seek out opportunities that allow you to shine more, not less.


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