Do you know your market value?

Boy meditating with books on his head and a laptop on his lap

“You Americans are just wired differently.”

I was with one of my French cousins, reminiscing about our summer trips to the South of France.

Our families would spend two weeks together for nearly 20 years.

My cousin remembered how he wanted to do 13-year-old kid stuff.

Like sleep in, play Gameboy and read a few graphic novels.

But no. This American (yours truly) had different plans. And I imposed them on my cousins.

I came armed with coding books and chess opening moves.

Not to mention a strict regimen of dips, push-ups and sit-ups.

Even as a 13-year-old, I was obsessed with boosting my “market value.”

Did we do enough sit ups?

My unhealthy obsession with inputs

The teenage years weren’t kind to me.

I was a giant nerd who only got kissed during games of spin the bottle.

But I deeply believed that I could change my life circumstances. As long as I kept building skills.

Skills would translate to money.

Money to status.

Which would give me what I wanted so desperately – to be loved.

From a ripe age, I’ve obsessively done things to better myself.

I viewed myself as a stock. Every single one of those activities would boost my value in the competitive market of jobs (and romantic relationships).

Not a single minute was wasted

The upleveling of skills was only one part of the equation.

On the other side, I avoided anything that would “detract” from my market value.

I avoided leisure. Whether it was reading literature or binging on Breaking Bad.

Heck, I’ve only watched 7 non-Pixar movies in the past decade

(And I’m embarrassed to admit that most of my leisure was accompanied by alcohol.)

But my market value equation was a bulletproof one.

Are humans just tradable commodities?

I’m not denying the effectiveness of this approach.

It enabled me basically semi-retire at age 35.

And I’d probably do it again.

But there were also costs. High-blood pressure. Alcohol. Alopecia. Grinding off all the enamels of my teeth in my sleep.

And the inability to just do nothing and BE with my family.

Becoming Post-Achievement means breaking the cycle

I give myself grace as I reflect back on this intense work ethic.

I also recognize that there’s a bigger force at play here – the system that we play in.

Now trust me, I’m no capitalism antagonist. But if we’re all fish swimming in a capitalist economy – we should look at the water.

In the book The Burnout Society, the South Korean philosopher Byung Chul-Han argues that the “water” is Neo-liberalism.

We’re no longer workers, we’re “entrepreneurs of ourselves” – commodities (i.e. human capital) that also can be transacted upon using the mechanisms of the free-market. Therefore we give ourselves a “market value” which fluctuates based upon productivity, performance, success and achievement.

This sets the stage for what Han calls Self-Exploitation

Where knowledge workers are constantly investing and improving themselves (um, hello podcasts at 2x speed).

We internalize the pressure to perform and excel.

And unlike the clear oppressor-oppressed relationship in traditional forms of exploitation (i.e. capital versus labor), self-exploitation makes it difficult for individuals to recognize the source of their stress and fatigue.

Should you stop caring about your market value?

No.

Unless you want to fully opt-out of the system.

But there are 2 things to remember.

First, your market value will never capture large swaths of your life. Like your ability to love and be loved.

Second, boosting your market value won’t fix your flaws or heal your insecurities.

And finally, there’s the good ol’ tombstone test.

When it’s all said and done, do you want it to say:

He was one of the world’s best investors.


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