A strange effect takes hold when you are underemployed: your idea of your value can weaken. This context can take hold if you are a consultant or an ex-employee.
This context is more complex than just the erosion of your self-esteem. In fact, your self-esteem may be fine. But some or all of these factors may weigh in:
- the hunger for challenging work
- the boredom of unstructured time during the long days
- the loneliness missing a community working towards a common goal
- the loss of your identity of making a significant contribution
- the hope of involvement on an interesting project.
These factors can lead you to make bad choices about where to spend your time, and how to price your worth.
Let’s assume for the moment that you are not against the wall financially – that you still have time to find new gigs or a better job.
Hunger for challenging work or hope for involvement on an exciting project may lead you ignore your better judgment about the doubtful sustainability of an initiative, or the company itself, because the project is interesting (but the success factors may be missing).
The boredom of your long days not knowing what to do when you get up in the morning may lead you to involvement with fun people in a job that sets back your career plan.
Your loneliness and yearning for community moves you to work in a company that is off the path of your expertise, and hinders your depth of experience in your chosen field.
Your loss of identity from not contributing to your chosen field or community may lead you to question the worth of your earlier contributions, and your value moving forward.
All of these factors can lead to weak choices, diminishing career momentum, and the erosion of your pricing structure, setting you back significantly, and perhaps permanently.
I have watched my clients who are consultants accept work for well below their current pricing because they were under-employed and restless, when they found an interesting project that couldn’t pay their established fees. Most folks like working more than looking for work, of course. But the discipline of maintaining your unrelenting prospecting efforts is critical, especially during economic downturns.
The fault in this judgment is that your involvement in a project or a new job rarely remains temporary. You get involved with the work and the people. You stop prospecting because you feel more valued, even in a lesser position or at lesser payment, because the community reinforcement is so stimulating and you have been so restless and bored. You accept this new, lower position and its compensation as appropriate.
And in accepting a lesser position or lesser payment, you set yourself down a notch or two from the level of payment and responsibility that took you years to create for yourself. And as time goes on, you must re-earn that previous position, even when the economy recovers.
I understand the need for challenging work and community support, especially when the down times go on so long. I know how exhausting it is to continuously prospect for new work, to be disappointed when the prospective work is less interesting or lower-paid than you had hoped, and you pass on the opportunity. And then begin again.
But, unless you are desperate for any income, you must maintain your discipline and sustain your effort of 90% or more committed time to client work and to getting new work, leaving only 10% to confusion, loneliness and the administrivia that bores you. To make a weaker choice when you have the option to wait for the best opportunity is to erode the career path that you have maintained for so long.
History is written by the victors, even if victory is simply the survival of your position in your career field. Over your long career, economies will rise and fall, but if you are still standing at your premier value, your community will remember only your consistent success.