How To Break The Habit Of Underselling Yourself In Business & Beyond

How can you break the sneaky habit of underselling yourself and stay out of the resentment zone?

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Did you give them a discount? And did you offer this before proposing your full rate? You're underselling yourself!

But it's OK because this is how we learn.

Entrepreneurs and employees alike fall into this classic story that goes a ‘lil something like this: "If I say what I believe my value to be, they’re going to think..."

"I’m full of myself."

'I’m not worth that much."

"I’m greedy."

"They’ll go with someone else."


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Your brain convinces you to fill in the sentence to prevent their inevitable rejection by underselling yourself.

"I'm well worth the investment."

"I'm a stretch and they’ll work to get it."

"I’m a deal."

"I’m confident and this is the kind of person they want to work with."

You're not a mind-reader — you have issues with knowing your worth.

Your brain may think it’s a mind-reader. Let me assure you that it's not.

It’s most often your own issues with money and worthiness that are getting in your way. Falling into a scarcity mindset, for example, makes sense when you see your bank account getting low.


Kinda ironic, given this is exactly the time to be your own best advocate.

How do you break this habit and stick to asking for your real value?

Determine what your time is actually worth right now.

New York Times bestselling author, James Clear, talks about this in his post, "The Value of Time." (It’s long but well worth the read):

“When I first calculated these numbers I was surprised. The value of an hour of my time was much lower than what I thought it would be.

"Think about how many freelancers charge $40/hour, but don’t make $100,000 per year. Or consider how many consultants charge $400/hour, but don’t make $1,000,000 per year. How can this be? The answer is these people are only being paid $40/hour or $400/hour for some of their hours, not all of their hours. When we divide their total income by the total time spent working, the value of each hour is much less than what they charge for a given hour of work with a client.


"Furthermore, although we might know what we would charge per hour, we rarely calculate how much time goes into earning money outside of our working hours. By accounting for all of the time we invest to earn money, we get a clearer picture of what our time is actually worth—and it is usually much less than what you would charge for an hour of work on your job."

He goes on to say, "Simply understanding the value of your time is helpful, but you need to know what you want out of life to get the most accurate idea of the value of your time."

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What James Clear reminds you is that your rate is a combination of the following:


What the market will bear, based on research, talking people, and the responses you get when you pitch it.

The investment of time and money it took for you to gain your experience and expertise.

What's really important to you in life.

If you’re someone who is fortunate enough to be purpose-driven work and identify with having your dream job, you don't get a pass to discount your worth.

In fact, it's easier for you to excuse undercharging.

Sure, you may be cashing what comedian Pete Holmes calls "happy checks" (doing things that bring you joy), but you’re also providing a service that has value.

When you discount it, you’re training buyers that your low rate is what it costs when it actually costs more.

Am I saying you should never take a pay cut? No. But, what I am saying is that you owe it to yourself — and others — to first propose and ask for your worth.


You can educate buyers and recruiters about what someone like you costs so do your best to stay out of your head when you pitch your number.

Be open to the negotiation because you'll want to keep yourself out of the resentment zone (the R zone). There are no happy checks to be made there.

If the employer or buyer can’t give you what you want, number-wise, what other benefits of value can you ask for? A referral? Marketing opportunities? A visible stretch assignment?


Consider this your value exchange list, which includes things of value that bridge the financial gap — and keeps you far from the R Zone.

If you don't have one of these, you're not ready to negotiate. It's your responsibility to come to the table with alternative ways to get paid. You can always ask the person on the other side of the table what they have to offer.

At the end of the day, it's up to you to establish and ask for your value. No one is going to do this for you.

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Lindsey Lathrop is a Durham-based certified coach and gender equity consultant. She created Promote Yourself Professionally to teach modest women leaders the skill of self-promotion to advance their careers and impact. Her expert advice on career advancement has been featured on HuffPost, Trello, Dress for Success, and in the book How to Make the Matriarchy: The Power and Promise of Prioritizing Women.