David Olney
28 October 2022

When I decided that 2020 would be my last year of teaching at University, and that I would begin studying a Master of Media in Strategic Communication in 2021, I experienced a lot of trepidation and some excitement. At the time of writing this blog post, I am one week away from submitting my thesis, which is my last piece of assessment for the degree, and I am thoroughly enjoying my new career as a Business Development Specialist and a Marketing Strategist. It took me from 2020 to the middle of 2022 to finally understand one particularly persistent aspect of my trepidation, and I am writing about it here, in hope that it makes any big transformation you are going through less stressful.

When I was a lecturer and tutor, I knew exactly what I was doing, how to do it well, and how to get positive feedback for what I was doing. All of this was nice, and all of it came to an end when I taught my last class in June 2020. What I also had up until that last class, which I didn’t appreciate until around May this year, was the status of being a lecturer at a well-known University. Even though I am not a particularly status conscious person (I’m not concerned about what brand of guitar I play, whisky I drink, or clothes I wear), being known as a lecturer gave me a sense of accomplishment and some degree of status.

Once I worked out that it was this loss of status that was contributing to my trepidation, I found and listened to W. David Marx’s book, Status and Culture, in which he argues that much of what we do is aimed at declaring and increasing our social rank. Everyone has a different level of focus on declaring and increasing their social rank, but, even if your level of interest is low, you will still unconsciously work toward having some status.

Reflecting on this, I realised that I had thought about what a blind person could do as a young adult, and I had concluded that the best path forward for me was doing things well, but not expecting a lot of status to go with my limited career options. Becoming a lecturer, and the status that came with it, sort of snuck up on me. I hadn’t aimed to be a successful University teacher, and got there by trying to do a good job of whatever people would let me have a go at.

When I started my Master of Media in Strategic Communication, I had no idea that I would become a business Development Specialist and a Marketing Strategist before the end of my degree, and I didn’t know what value or status I would get out of becoming a Strategic Communication professional. Happily, I have discovered that my colleagues value me, and that our clients get value from me working with them, and that I help to add value to small businesses in two countries. Today, I have a lovely sense of being valued and adding value, whilst having less social status than I had as a lecturer.

And now we get to the question at the top of this blog post: how much status and value do we need?

At University I had a reasonable amount of status, tried to add value for my students, and was not valued by the institution. As a Strategic Communication professional, I probably don’t have much status (I assume I am now seen as David the marketing guy), am valued by my colleagues, and add value for our clients. Having now experienced these two different combinations of status and value, I can categorically state that I prefer being David the marketing guy. Being valued and adding value is more rewarding and important to me than status.

Where do you think you sit on the spectrum of status focused on one side and value focused on the other? Do you lean strongly toward one side, or do you think you need to find a balance point somewhere in the middle? My sense is that I am happy at about 75% value and 25% status, which is where I find myself today. By the time I finished teaching in 2020 I think I was experiencing about 75% status and 25% value, which was very bad for my sense of well-being and self-worth.

I’m not sure how people can work out where they fit on the status and value spectrum without a lot of trial and error, and some discomfort, but it is something I believe everyone should reflect on.

Before I decided to enrol in the Master of Media in Strategic Communication, I listened to John DeMartini’s book, The Values Factor, and did one of the exercises he recommends in the book. DeMartini asks the reader/listener to work out what their five core values are, separate from their current work or area of study, and then consider whether what they are doing aligns with these five values. I concluded that my five core values are: empowering people, constantly learning, solving problems, staying well, and sharing beautiful things with the people I care about. Interestingly, being David the marketing guy has enabled me to align more closely with my values than working at a University did.

If you find yourself constantly chasing the next high status thing, or quickly becoming bored with what you are doing and the things you have, please consider reflecting on whether you have found a happy balance between status and value. If the status you have doesn’t feel satisfying, is it a question of status, or a question of not being sufficiently valued, or adding sufficient value? If you don’t feel valued, what else could you do, and where else could you be, to add value to your life?

Change is uncomfortable, but finding a better balance is probable, as long as you have worked out what you value.

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