Under-Earners, Unite!

Under-Earners, Unite!

By Heather King 05/07/12

These 12-steppers have nothing to lose but their poverty, debts, hoarding habits, dead-end jobs, workaholism and fear of success! They have a world—and a "God-sized Wallet"—to win!

Image: 
“It is about underachieving or under-being.” photo via

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The disease is vagueness, and paradoxically the solution is not money but clarity. Clarity about how much you spend (and on what), how much you earn, and how much you owe. (Under-earning is distinguishable from straight debting in that you may or may not also be acquiring unsecured debt, but for sure you’re self-debting.) Clarity about your skills and their fair-market value, about a spending plan and a marketing plan. Clarity about the fact that if you’re self-employed, your most precious asset is yourself, so you need to get adequate health and car insurance, pay yourself a salary and give yourself sick days and vacations. Clarity about how you spend your time, about the difference between working and earning, about how you’d like your life to look but perhaps haven’t quite dared to reach for.

Here are 12 symptoms of under-earning, from the UA website:

1. Time Indifference: We put off what must be done and do not use our time to support our own vision and further our own goals.

2. Idea Deflection: We compulsively reject ideas that could expand our lives or careers, and increase our profitability.

3. Compulsive Need to Prove: Although we have demonstrated competence in our jobs or business, we are driven by a need to re-prove our worth and value.

4. Clinging to Useless Possessions: We hold onto possessions that no longer serve our needs, such as threadbare clothing or broken appliances.

5. Exertion/Exhaustion: We habitually overwork, become exhausted, then underwork or cease work completely.

6. Giving Away Our Time: We compulsively volunteer for various causes, or give away our services without charge, when there is no clear benefit.

7. Undervaluing and Underpricing: We undervalue our abilities and services and fear asking for increases in compensation or for what the market will bear.

8. Isolation: We choose to work alone when it might serve us much better to have co-workers, associates, or employees.

9. Physical Ailments: Sometimes, out of fear of being larger or exposed, we experience physical ailments.

10. Misplaced Guilt or Shame: We feel uneasy when asking for or being given what we need or what we are owed.

11. Not Following Up: We do not follow up on opportunities, leads or jobs that could be profitable. We begin many projects and tasks but often do not complete them.

12. Stability Boredom: We create unnecessary conflict with co-workers, supervisors and clients, generating problems that result in financial distress.

The disease is vagueness, and paradoxically the solution is not money but clarity. 

Friends in Debtors Anonymous (DA) tell me that under-earning issues are certainly addressed there, but compulsive under-earning is, in many respects, a world unto itself. So far, Under-earners Anonymous (as an organization distinct from DA) is just getting underway, with several meetings in most big US cities, many smaller ones and as far away as London, Bogota and Jerusalem. (The organization was founded by a failed New York businessman—now a successful motivational speaker—in 2006.) Another option consists in the 13 to 16 daily UA phone meetings complete with the typical 12-step names: “Selling With Serenity,” “From Hiding and Biting to Shining and Receiving,” and “God-Sized Wallet.” And of course there are meetings tailored for the “creative professions” to deal with the starving-artist syndrome. (As always, 12-step programs are just one way to address the disease.)

Friends in DA also tell me that the first few months can be daunting, with talk of PRGs (Pressure Relief Groups), Action Buddies and workshops to learn Quicken, Excel and/or the “DA Tools.” Because earning is so intricately tied up with time, UA also apparently suggests keeping a time log. Although “the credits don’t transfer,” those familiar with other 12-step programs will already know the general drill: sponsorship, action, service.

And my friends also tell me that though their income has generally risen over time, the real magic is that they are able to recognize, own and freely share their talents and gifts. People who were doing telemarketing for $12 an hour are running nonprofit food banks. Folks who were housecleaning (with PhDs) are having gallery openings for their photography. For my own part, I’m seeing I need to earn more, have stepped up a marketing campaign for my editing business, and recently, out of the blue, heard from a reader/fan who’s undertaken to organize a speaking tour for me in New Zealand next year. From my LA apartment this morning, I looked out at the backyard fountain and saw a finch perched at the top, its feathers shining like gold in the sun. Light! Joy! Hope!

You can’t put a price on that.

Heather King is an ex-barfly, an ex-lawyer and a Catholic convert with three memoirs: Parched; Redeemed; and Shirt of Flame: A Year with St. Thérèse of Lisieux. She lives in Los Angeles and blogs at shirtofflame.blogspot.com. Visit her website at heather-king.com.