As a financial coach, I don’t just work with people in desperate situations. I frequently work with clients who are doing very well with money but are looking to do even better. These people have an incredible work ethic and desire to leave a legacy for their families and community. So what has struck me is the frequency with which many of these people literally feel shame about their high-incomes.
Why is that?
The American Dream for generations has been to work one’s way up from the bottom to the top and to create wealth out of nothing (effectively). The overwhelming majority of millionaires in America come from humble backgrounds and inherited nothing.
These people work hard and live intentionally their entire lives. While many of them never earned over $100,000 a year, some have. Some of these future millionaires work with me right now.
What I find troubling is that they are often ashamed of their high-income level and feel that they are somehow taking something from someone else.
Having a High Income is Nothing to be Ashamed Of
This is a myth that I want to dispel not just for them, but for everyone else, as well. First, let’s lay out a few ground rules.
In a free market economy, buyers and sellers voluntarily engage in commerce free of any coercion. The fair price for a given product or service is what the buyer and seller mutually agree upon. It may not be what someone else would pay, but that hypothetical other person is not a party to the transaction.
There is no income level that is inherently immoral. If you earn $10 million a year, that’s not evil by any means. The key is not the dollar amount, but the value you are providing to others.
If you provide an excellent product or service and people voluntarily buy it, there really is no moral limitation on what you can or should be able to earn.
Where Do These Feelings of Guilt and Shame Come From?
Intellectually, most high-income earners know this, but there is a toxic message of envy in our culture. The message says, “You shouldn’t have that. If you earn that much it’s because you’re stealing from poor people.”
I can’t even begin to emphasize how horrendous and wrong this message is.
Who are these other people to state that what another person earns is stolen? Do they have all the details of your work history and the ability to understand all the intricacies of your background?
Of course not! They’ve bought into the comforting lies because it is easier to believe the message of envy than the message of responsibility. Envy is cheap, but so are its results.
In a market economy, where transactions are happening voluntarily, you are not making others poor by earning a high-income.
So if you’re a high-income earner, I want you to ask yourself this question: “Is what I’m doing helping other people?”
If the answer to that question is yes, then there is no shame in earning what your job pays you. If you are making other people’s lives better, there is nothing immoral about earning a good living.
In fact, if you are making many other people’s lives much better, I say it would immoral for you not to be paid well for your efforts!
How Toxic Money Culture Comes Into Play
You see, our culture has a fixed-pie mentality. That if you have a lot, it’s because you took from someone who has a little. But that’s not how a market economy works.
The recently-late economist Walter Williams put it this way:
I really love how he states it. There is a certain justice to serving others and being rewarded for it.
By being paid a lot for your excellent work, you are not stealing from others! Your high-income is not taking from other people.
Income is not distributed. It is earned.
When you work at your high-earning job, you are making other people’s lives better. For example, a former client of mine works in the mobile communications industry. She’s always done well, but when the COVID shutdowns hit and everything went virtual, sales exploded almost overnight.
This client’s annual earnings in 2020 were around $300,000. One of the topics that frequently came up was “I don’t deserve this.”
I reminded her and her husband that we technically don’t deserve anything. But she has been placed in a position where people need the products she sells.
Yes, she made a lot of money this year, but she also helped hundreds of thousands of people. Because of the products and services she sells, many other people can work from home whereas before they may not have had that ability.
The fact that many other people are suffering financially doesn’t change what she did this year and all her other working years. Governments have shut down our economy, not her mobile sales.
Final Thoughts on High Income Earners Overcoming Guilt & Shame
This is a difficult subject to navigate because of all the conflicting messaging. I want to help those who earn a good living to understand that their high-income level is a blessing and not a curse.
Remember that if this type of position was voluntarily offered to you, and you voluntarily took it up, and you show up to work each day and fulfill your position with excellence, you’re doing your part of that deal. It is only fair that you be compensated well for your valuable skill set.
If you find yourself struggling with this, let’s talk about how you can change your perspective. Schedule your free Discovery Session now to transform your view of your great income from a burden to a blessing.