What Is A Wage Mentality and How To Overcome Its Effects

Jimmy Early
8 min readOct 5, 2021
This cat’s first step is to admitting it

One of the hardest challenges to overcome during your journey as an entrepreneur is transitioning from an employee-based mindset to a mental state that produces pure financial independence. Unless you have never worked under someone or have maintained a life free of the frustrating tolls associated with the “rat-race’’, this is easier said than done. Most people, or at the very least the majority I have encountered, have worked for someone, or earned a living through different levels of employment. These levels of employment can range from the corporate office, to washing dishes at a restaurant. Even contract gigs that are technically viewed as self-employed, such as Lyft or Door Dash, fall under this umbrella since the driver (or bike rider) is employed under an autonomous platform. When it comes to pure financial independence the only employers that are relevant to your day-to-day business progressions are your specific customers, and the free market that generates them. But is it not true, or at the very least expected, that working for an employer during the early stages of your business ventures is fundamentally necessary? I mean how else can you fund your passion? And is working a stable job not the safest route until you reach the goal of pure financial freedom? If what was stated sounds logical to you and your forehead did not begin to crease with frustration, then you may be a victim of the wage mentality. Now, do not be too alarmed because you are definitely not alone. As stated earlier most individuals I have met fall under this stigma of thought. I too fell victim to this idea as well. Understanding why such a mental state can be toxic and may hold you back from achieving the entrepreneurial goals that you desire, will be life changing if put into practice.

So, what exactly is a wage mentality? A wage mentality is simply the belief that only through an employer, financial independence can be achieved and maintained. This mindset can be a hindrance towards growth because it limits and distorts your understanding of financial freedom, can create a system of independence and inferiority, and gives a false sense of security. Now, before I indulge further on this matter, it would be disingenuous if I were to completely bash wage or salary-based work — or any type of employment opportunity that supports a livelihood. Working for anyone, no matter what the career or job, will always generate insightful and progressive concepts that can be applied in a positive and effective manner. In many ways, working for someone can help you amplify the necessary tools that are essential to your work ethic and career development, whether you are seeking future self-employment or monetary stability. I have even highlighted some of those concepts that I learned in another post, giving praise to my time working in the rat-race titled: “Top 10 Lessons I’ve Learned From Working A Regular 9–5”. However, using your employment as a tool rather than a fundamental need is the key, and it is what I will be shedding light on in this piece to decode this subtle nuance.

A wage mentality can twist our understanding of financial freedom because it places the employer as a default and primary source of stability, rather than a component of a larger whole. We must never forget that money is a tool, like a hammer or saw, and it can be generated and applied in a variety of ways. An employer is just a piece of the general financial spectrum. It is not something that has to be engraved in your process for monetary balance. Many people believe that they do not place their employers on a pedestal, while they simultaneously feel anxiety if they spend more of their time on other assets separate from their jobs. Such a contradiction creates the illusion in their minds that their employer is just a needed primary component based on what it brings to the table, and if other avenues and financial ventures are being applied in conjunction to that primary employer, then no real job dependence is present. This type of mind-trick is actually in the favor of your boss, then it is for your progression. What you are about to read may sound strange; however, its vitally necessary if your thoughts are similar to the illusion that was just mentioned. Whether you are working for multiple entities or not, if you are employed under or work for someone (excluding self-employed business contracts), there should never be a primary job; all are equal. But how can such a thing be possible? To fully understand what was stated, I must break it down from a business minded perspective.

As I mentioned earlier, a wage mentality creates dependence on a job or career, which can cause a sense of inferiority for the individual working under that employer. This is due to the age-old propaganda of job security. Many young and aspiring entrepreneurs, as well as those seeking financial balance, fall victim to the assets and amenities that jobs offer with their wages. On the surface, a 401K, paid vacation time, and monthly coupons to your favorite coffee shop may seem like a harmless initiative to gain workers’ trust, value, and dedication on the job, but oftentimes this is further from the truth. It is a convenient pittance for most employers that offer these packages to their workers if you compare the value that their employees offer in return. Such a commendable sacrifice from an employer in turn creates a profit for them at the workers’ expense. In other words, the amount of work that an employee puts in everyday he or she clocks in will become much more valuable to their employer, no matter the benefits given, than the total package (wage included) the employee receives for their time. This normally does not become as apparent until a large portion of time has passed where the employee has spent years working under the mantle of this monetary agreement. However, this give-and-take relationship is not the issue, for both parties benefit initially, and it can provide value for the employee if they use their time wisely. Yet, this is where the game gets tricky. The value an employer gives within a capitalistic society to their workers, no matter how generous, is not exponential in nature. Such an arrangement will begin to plateau for their workers, while their job’s market value increases during their [the worker’s] time employed. For many who wish to be self-sufficient as their own boss or strive to retire early after obtaining financial freedom, giving several years or the majority of your time and commitment to a particular job or career may not be in their best interest. A job’s value, for an employee, declines overtime; thus, it is wise to never put all your eggs in one basket. Remember that money is a tool, meaning that anything that generates money is nothing more than a toolbox. Using this same analogy, if your goal is to build a house, is it possible to do so with one simple toolbox? Especially if, after laying down the first section of your house’s foundation, the tools within that box start to dull overtime.

Many hardworking and dedicated people spend years of their lives hammering away at their jobs, hoping that the same dull hammer will simultaneously produce the house of their dreams. Unfortunately, this approach will become time consuming and impractical unless multiple toolboxes are available to rotate, add specifications where needed, and divide the work. Sure, there will be toolboxes that offer better and more powerful results than others, but what is an electric drill to a hammer if the prize is completing a home. Thus, all tools are equal and no toolbox should be regarded as more valuable and necessary than the other. No employer can offer you the perfect toolset, and if you acquire a great deal on one, simply add it to your fundamental garage collection. The value that you put in yourself is the blueprint; hence, the mindset is to spend more of your time building your house — business, savings, legacy — and not wasting too much time on the fancy apparatuses you may gather to get the job done. Understanding the societal constructs of a wage mentality can be hard to grasp overtime. It sounds good and spiritually freeing to overcome it on a philosophical level; yet, how can you defy the hold most dead-end careers and time-consuming jobs have on your day-to-day? To be honest the mental process can be difficult to break since many of us have been trained to generally think on this level. However, this can be overcome in a relatively short period of time if you apply these four powerful but basic concepts:

Once again, money is nothing more than a tool at best, and you should never give it more power than that on your journey. The second concept is to be a teacher in training under whatever career opportunity you have acquired. Studying your boss and the general operations that you and your coworkers (if any) partake in will grant you a variety of business lessons that will elevate your understanding, good or bad, of how your particular work system functions. This is important because you will become a student of this financial game and can learn how to manipulate it at will. This approach overtime will free you from being taken advantage of in your workplace. I was not taught the concept of a wage mentality from a school or business, but from going through the trials and tribulations of working 9–5s and paying attention to how my job manages their business; thus, I became one of many teachers of the science of wage labor. Thirdly, learn the art of the hustle and understand the world of contract relationships outside of your employer. No job is perfect, and the goal is to gain value for yourself first and foremost, and not just the job you work for. This notion leads me to my final point, which is to not think less of yourself. Many individuals during this pandemic found out that they were able to survive after layoffs and job closers once they realized that it was not the job that gave them a livelihood, it was their work ethic. Your employer’s business cannot be as great as it is without its workers. The employees are the driving force, meaning that the ultimate value is the skill and labor of those from the bottom up that keep the business functional. You have value, you have worth, and thus through action you have promise. So, what actions can you take to break the chains and be free?