📖 Book Chapter - Maximizing Your Earning Potential (Issue #37)
Push hard before you lose your advantage
This is a draft of Chapter 21 of the book I’m writing, Building the Invincible You. In it, I share a framework and strategies for:
Amplifying your power in your work and life.
Regaining your freedom to spend more of your time the way you wish you could.
Building the future you want for yourself and your loved ones.
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We all know there will be a day when we retire from the workforce.
For some of us, that moment seems far, far away. For others, it’s looming right around the corner.
However, what most people don’t realize is there will also be a day when your earning potential peaks. From that point forward, it will be increasingly difficult to make more than you earned in previous years.
“Women reach their peak earnings at the age of 44, earning on average $66,700. Men reach their peak earnings at the age of 55, earning on average $101,200.” (source)
This is true for most people, but not all. You may already be earning more than that average, of course. You may be lucky and continue to progress in your career well past the age of 44 or 55.
But wouldn’t you like to make as much as you possibly can for the work you do? Why would you settle for less? Also, even if your peak is later than average, you will still hit a point of peak earnings at some point in your life (unless you’re immortal).
In this chapter, I want to share some recommendations for maximizing your earning potential while you can and reaping the rewards of that investment later in your life.
Leverage your advantages
There is no level playing field in life, despite the popularity of schools, companies, and various services exclaiming, “Hey, we create a level playing field!”
Please. Who are you kidding?
You can’t go through life as if you are playing a board game by the rules. Making sure that everyone is playing fair, and that no one has an unfair advantage over anyone else.
Life doesn’t work that way.
There are so many variables that influence your success in life.
Variables in who you are.
Variables in your culture and environment.
Variables in the workplace.
Variables in your boss.
Variables in the work you do.
And there is an infinite combination of variables in the people around you and the way you interact with each other.
It is impossible to create an absolutely level playing field for everyone. On top of it all, you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t leverage every single advantage that you have. The world is challenging enough without you restricting your potential out of some naïve sense of fair play.
You need to use your “unique sizzle” to create your unfair advantage. You don’t get to reset the game board at the end of your life and play harder next time.
This is your one shot.
You get one game.
You get one ride.
Obviously, be a decent person. Don’t be ruthless and cruel, or do terrible things to get ahead. But play as hard as you can with what you’ve been given and what you’ve earned. Leverage every ounce of your natural talent, strengths, hard-earned skills, knowledge, and experience to succeed. I wrote more about this in this article.
“Too often, the opportunity knocks, but by the time you push back the chain, push back the bolt, unhook the two locks and shut off the burglar alarm, it’s too late.”
— Rita Coolidge
There is nothing wrong with using your supposedly unfair advantages to succeed in your career and life. Believe me, no one else is going to dedicate their life to helping make you successful every step of the way. You’ll be on your own and have to earn it.
So, if you want to maximize your earning potential by receiving more opportunities, getting bigger raises, and landing great jobs, don’t hold back. Use every advantage you can to open doors, make people like you, persuade others, and get what you deserve.
Lean on your network
In chapter 14, I talked about how to create your powerful network and the value of “weak ties” for discovering new opportunities. If you’ve built a great network over time (e.g., peers at school, coworkers, previous bosses, etc.), it can certainly be one of your “unfair advantages.”
My network is one of my most valuable assets. I frequently talk about the power of warm introductions as a way to bypass the traditional job search process, which is a nightmare, by the way. Every single one of my amazing tech jobs was the result of leveraging my network, getting a warm introduction, and having an “inside champion.”
My grad school advisor introduced me to someone who helped me get my first job with IBM.
A grad school friend introduced me to a hiring manager to land a summer internship with Apple.
My managers and coworkers at Apple wanted to keep me on, so they helped me get hired full time at Apple later.
My friend from Apple introduced me to a hiring manager at a startup to help me land a role as the first full-time design employee there.
After I launched my solopreneur design agency, all of the great folks in my consulting network helped me land gigs for several years.
My friend from grad school (and previous coworker at Apple) hired me at eBay.
A previous coworker from eBay worked his magic at Google to help get me an interview and secure a job offer.
My previous manager’s boss at Apple ended up hiring me at Yahoo.
Let me be clear, though. I still had to interview for those jobs and do well enough to get an offer. I also worked my butt off for many, many years to be very good at my jobs as a designer, manager, and leader. But, as you may have experienced, it can be challenging to even get to the interview phase and not get ghosted by companies.
So yeah, I guess you could say having a powerful network makes all the difference in the world for opening doors, landing great jobs, and boosting your lifetime earning potential. I don’t know why people still use the “spray-and-pray” approach and think it’s going to work. Someone recently shared on social media that they had applied online to something like 500 job openings and still hadn’t landed a job — or even secured a solid interview.
Another person created a bot that generated multiple variations of emails, cover letters, and resumes, and applied to thousands of jobs over three months. Let’s just say the results were less than spectacular. They discovered, as I have, that the best jobs aren’t left to games of chance. Here were the takeaways:
“It’s not how you apply, it’s who you know. And if you don’t know someone, don’t bother.
Companies are trying to fill a position with minimal risk, not discover someone who breaks the mold.
The number of jobs you apply to has no correlation to whether you’ll be considered, and you won’t be considered for jobs you don’t get the chance to apply to.”
When you have an inside champion, they have a vested interest in you succeeding. They don’t want to bend the rules to bring you in for interviews, only to watch you bomb out during the process. If you fail, they look bad too.
Unlike the folks who got lucky and just happened to secure an interview with some random strategy, you have someone who will champion you through the entire process. You know that getting that initial interview is only the tip of the iceberg. It takes a lot more to make it all the way through the entire process to end up with an excellent offer in hand.
I’ve witnessed the power of the champion from both sides of the table. I’ve had people bring me into companies, and it was clear that the interview was a formality.
I’ve literally had an interviewing decision maker say, “Well, <the champion> speaks highly of you. If he says we should bring you on board, that’s good enough for me.”
I’ve also been on the hiring side of the table and had a candidate’s champion constantly shepherding that person through the process. He or she would make sure that we never dropped the ball, reminded me of how great the candidate was, and kept asking if we had made the offer yet.
Doesn’t that sound like something you would want as a job candidate? It’s the best way to discover the best jobs and negotiate the best offers.
When you interview for new jobs and start receiving offers, don’t be shy about negotiating for what you know you are worth. As hard as it may seem to do during the offer process, it’s even harder once you take the job. Asking for a raise or promotion later will be more challenging, trust me.
Level is the real golden opportunity, and your total compensation is based on that. Stock, bonuses, base salary, and some other perks are all tied into level. Bumping up your level is where you’ll get the biggest bang for your negotiation buck.
If you are on the cusp between two levels (e.g., Director vs. Sr. Director), make a case for the next level up. Support your proposal with data and examples of why you are performing at that next level.
Negotiate hard because a level bump impacts your lifetime earning potential, as well as myriad other opportunities and doors it will open for you later. I can’t emphasize this enough. Getting bumped up into that next level will make a massive difference in how quickly your career advances over the years.
Now, if the thought of negotiating with an employer makes you feel queasy, I’m going to let you in on a secret. There is a much easier way to negotiate and receive the best offers possible:
Make them fight for you!
You should be interviewing with more than one potential employer simultaneously. Speed up or slow down the process with each one to time everything, so you receive multiple job offers (e.g., “I need a few more days to consider your offer. I won’t be making a final decision until I receive offers from the other potential employers too.”)
The best way to receive the best compensation possible is to negotiate intelligently and firmly. But, most people feel bad about pushing their advantage when they are in the driver’s seat.
I get it. You’re a good person. But there’s nothing wrong with wanting a fantastic job offer. There’s nothing wrong with being a strong negotiator to get what you deserve.
Let me tell you, employers didn’t feel guilty about taking advantage of the previous job market conditions to play candidates against each other, hire people at below-market compensation, and give employees meager raises that didn’t even keep pace with inflation.
I know it isn’t easy to push back and ask for what you want in just the right way. It can often feel like some complex strategy game where you don’t know all the moves and consequences.
Yet, when you don’t negotiate hard enough, you’re settling for less. That’s unfortunate because every new job is your most significant opportunity to boost your lifetime earning potential. Your biggest bumps in compensation — and often title — will happen when you have the best bargaining power.
When are you in the best position to bargain? Before you take the job.
However, for many of us, negotiation feels like conflict. It seems risky. If the other party gets upset and walks away, we lose the job. Or, we end up getting the job, and now we fear that our new boss is irritated with us.
However, there is hope. There is a way to reap the benefits of negotiation, even if you feel like it isn’t your strength. There’s a much easier way to let other negotiation experts work on your behalf.
How? By leveraging the power of competing offers. I talked more about it in this article.
Stay when the ride is good
If you love your job, like your boss, and things are going well at work, then stay with your employer for as long as it makes sense. But, don’t let a misplaced sense of loyalty — or fear of the unknown — make you stick around too long, especially if your employer isn’t taking care of your career and financial future. If your income isn’t increasing to keep pace with inflation and the growing cost of living, you’re falling behind. Today’s dollar is worth less than it was a year ago.
If you aren’t receiving a sizable raise that exceeds inflation, you’re actually making less money every year because the dollar isn’t as valuable. It’s as if your annual salary was reduced by thousands. And, because of the rising costs of almost everything, it is getting harder to make ends meet.
Yes, you should always have a household budget and strive to reduce your expenses. You know I’m an advocate for living more simply and curbing extravagant spending. That’s one reason I left the Bay Area of California.
However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t maximize your earning potential at the same time. If you want to get ahead and live a better life, you must ask your employer for the compensation you deserve. I’m here to tell you that waiting and hoping is a risky strategy. Not every employer looks out for their employees. Not every boss is going to fight for you.
I want you to get comfortable having a conversation with your manager about your performance every year before the employee review process begins. For many companies, this happens in late Q4 and early Q1. If you wait until they have made their decisions, it is too late.
I also want you to feel good about asking for a promotion (and the associated raise) when you know you are performing at the next level and deserve it. I want you to feel confident asking for the raise you should receive every year to keep pace with inflation and cost-of-living increases. I wrote more about this process in this article.
Be professional with your request and conversation.
Be prepared with supporting data (e.g., why you’re ready and the value delivered).
Don’t feel shy, nervous, or like you’re being “greedy.”
You deserve the compensation for what you do for the company!
When you are providing value to your employer, you deserve commensurate compensation in return. And if your employer doesn’t understand that, it’s time to find a new job with an employer who will pay you fairly.
Move on when momentum slows
The sooner you accept full responsibility for your professional growth and career ladder, the better off you will be. No one cares about your career as much as you do. No boss will take ownership of your path and future.
You must build your own ladder to get the safety, growth, security, and fulfillment you need. The old days are behind us of joining a company and climbing an internal career ladder for the rest of your professional life.
Building your ladder may feel overwhelming, but it is ultimately empowering. Your career exists far beyond the walls of any one company. You get to plan the path that is best for you.
In this modern, connected, remote, global working world, you have an almost infinite number of “rungs” to choose from. Intentionally choose employers who will give you the skills, knowledge, and experience you need to keep climbing your unique ladder.
You can even select rungs from the wonderful world of entrepreneurship, as I have. It is easier than ever before to transition from employee to solopreneur.
However, you will reduce your lifetime earning potential if you stay with an employer for too long. If you’re not getting promoted frequently and receiving significant raises (i.e., way beyond cost-of-living bumps), you need to move on.
For example, I worked at eBay for four years, and I received a promotion every single year I was there. But eventually, the writing was on the wall. An organizational and leadership change made it clear that my good years there were over. So, I started looking around, leveraged my network, and landed a new job with a promotion in less than two weeks. My career would have stalled if I had stayed. In my new job, I was soon promoted to VP of Design, moved into a VP of Product role a little later, and boosted the trajectory of my career forever.
Your biggest salary jumps will typically occur when you accept a new job at another company. Once you’re inside a system, the policies for raises and promotions aren’t very flexible. Your manager has a little wiggle room, but not much. I know, because I’ve been on that side of the table.
A new job offer is your chance to make the biggest impact on your lifetime earning potential. It’s why I often recommend job hopping, within reason. Quitting jobs too quickly doesn’t look good (e.g., less than 1-2 years), but staying too long will hurt you.
“Staying employed at the same company for over two years on average is going to make you earn less over your lifetime by about 50% or more.” (source)
Job offers are also your best chance to elevate your total compensation with a sign-on bonus, quarterly performance bonuses, stock, and your base salary. You should always try to make a job change include a promotion. Remember, every promotion, raise, and new job that comes after this will be on top of the new comp base you’ve established. The financial benefits accrue.
Create a portfolio of diverse, scalable revenue streams
If your primary source of income is from one job and you have a single boss who controls your fate, you are vulnerable. You are also limiting your earning potential by only getting paid for your time. You essentially get paid once for the work performed for your employer, unless you’ve figured out some sort of revenue sharing deal.
I think this model is what most of us experience for the majority of our careers. It certainly was a reality for me. I had a few other smaller income sources, but the majority was from my full-time corporate job.
You may be thinking that this is all well and good because you’re doing a great job and get along well with your boss. But that can change. If and when your great boss leaves (e.g., lands a better role somewhere else), you may or may not end up with a new boss who works out just as well.
If your organization is merged with another one during a re-org, you may end up reporting to someone new. If your company is acquired, your entire job description might change, as well as your reporting structure.
I’ve been through all of these. Some didn’t end very well.
It’s a roll of the dice. You don’t usually have much personal control over corporate mergers, acquisitions, or re-orgs (unless you’re a C-level executive or on the Board). You do not get to handpick your new boss.
You may even be quite surprised by who they hire for that role. If you don’t mesh well with them, or they aren’t a good manager or mentor, your promising career path is now uncertain.
When you create an Invincible Career, you’re not at the mercy of a single employer. You’re not vulnerable to a sudden layoff that could quickly eliminate your primary source of income. You have backup plans and additional revenue streams to help you get through tough times and boost your income during the good times.
It’s fine to have a 9-5 job, but realize that isn’t a scalable source of income. You can’t suddenly 10x the amount of money you receive for an hour of work. You can’t create something and put it out into the world to generate revenue for you forever. Your time belongs to your employer. What you create belongs to your employer, not you (i.e., it’s their intellectual property).
You don’t scale. Your time doesn’t scale. But, you can leverage scalable models to sell to an infinite number of customers. You can turn a fixed amount of your time as a creator into scalable goods that sell forever. You can scale what you do by hiring employees or contractors. You can replicate your model with the help of support staff.
Create your own portfolio of diverse revenue streams outside of work, on your own time. Make sure to check your employment agreement and local laws to know what’s possible where you live.
Some examples of additional revenue streams that boost your earning potential beyond your day job:
Providing consulting services (e.g., I work 1-on-1 with my coaching clients).
Getting paid by a much larger number of customers simultaneously for a single block of your time (e.g., I’ve taught live workshops to multiple attendees).
Creating something you can sell to an infinite number of customers forever, with some ongoing maintenance and updates (e.g., I’ve created and sell multiple online courses that I periodically update).
Creating something once that you can sell to infinite customers forever and make money while you sleep, with no additional work later (e.g., I love that I still receive revenue from articles I wrote over six years ago and never updated, and even from t-shirts I designed over 10 years ago and haven’t changed since).
Heck, you can even “sell your sawdust” by selling the byproduct of your work or the systems you use to do your work (e.g., selling a DIY process and template for how you create something). Some people also generate revenue from ads displayed while they’re doing what they’d already be doing anyway (e.g., live-streaming while they game, work, commute, exercise, and essentially live their lives behind the scenes).
Sounds crazy, right? But some people are making good money doing just that. Here are a few examples:
An UberEats delivery guy who strapped a GoPro to his helmet, records his deliveries, and uploads the videos to his YouTube channel that now has 50k subscribers.
Dr. Sandra Lee (aka Dr. Pimple Popper) is a dermatologist who shares her work with viewers. She has 7.5M subscribers on YouTube.
Dylan Lemay worked at a Cold Stone Creamery and shared videos of his ice cream workmanship on YouTube and TikTok. He now has millions of followers on each platform, and that success has enabled him to open his own ice cream shop!
Think of it like getting paid twice for the same time spent working. You’re already doing your job, and now the content that you record along the way is building your audience for your side hustle or future business.
Invest for the future
One obvious investment is putting your money to work for you. You can maximize your earning potential with smart investments in stocks, small businesses, real estate, land, etc. Some of my investments have returned value way beyond the paycheck any employer gave me.
Doing this requires financial discipline. Keep your expenses under control, live within your means, and aggressively put money into investments and retirement funds. Keeping up with the Joneses may be all fun and games when you’re younger. But once your best earning years are behind you, it sucks to be financially struggling and not able to earn enough to enjoy your retirement.
However, when I say “invest for the future,” I’m also talking about getting ahead of what is inevitably coming for you in your career and life.
The tapering off of interest in you and your skills.
The lack of employability — yes, ageism is real.
The lack of marketability (business owners may struggle finding customers as they grow older)
You can ease into a better future of greater relevance if you strategically plan ahead of time during your peak years. Prepare yourself to share your wisdom in your later years with consulting, coaching, mentoring, and advisory work.
If you’ve maximized your earning potential during your working years, created a robust portfolio of revenue streams, invested well, and planned for your future, your golden years will truly be golden.
You will have peak earning years, and income opportunities will decline after that.
Be prepared to maximize your earning potential while you have the advantage and don’t be shy about using your unfair advantages.
Treat your network like the valuable asset that it is, and leverage it to help you land better jobs than you could without the assistance.
You don’t have to be a negotiation expert to get the best deals. Let the experts do it for you as they fight over landing you.
Be proactive about asking for raises and promotions, and only stay with an employer while the ride is still good. Do not stick around when your growth stalls.
Your biggest bumps in title and compensation typically occur when you take new jobs.
Do not rely on a single source of income. Create a portfolio of diverse revenue streams.
Scale yourself to boost your income with digital goods, contractors, employees, etc.
Create systems that let you make money while you sleep. Earning 24x7 is the best way to maximize your income.
Finally, invest in your future. Invest intelligently, be prepared for what is coming, and create a system that will give you financial security for the rest of your life.
I’m looking forward to sharing more of my book with you this year! Become a subscriber today to keep reading the draft chapters as I complete them.
Hi, I’m Larry Cornett, a Personal Coach who can work with you to optimize your career, life, or business. My mission is to help you take complete control of your life so you can become a more “Invincible You.” I currently live in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with my wife and our Great Dane.