7 Reasons Why Creative People Don’t Get Paid What They’re Worth

Short answer: They don’t believe they’re worth it.

Long answer: It’s complex

1. Creative People Put Themselves In Boxes

Only 25% of people believe they’re living up to their potential to be creative.

This means that 75% of creatives aren’t. And most likely are dumbing-down insights, creative intelligence and the chance to be valued more highly — both financially and professionally.

Financial pressure is often cited for not following a creative life. It’s a real pressure. The ‘follow-your-passion’ movement has created a canyon between the creatives who make money from ideas and talents, and those who settle for a work-week job that feels as like they’re fading faster than yesterday’s news.

Like the panda below — escape is never far from mind if trapped in a cubicle.

Allowing the limits of your box (or cubicle — even if it’s a spare room at home) to define your boundaries means dumbing down your creative skills.

By applying your own creative process to this problem means finding new connections, searching for unrelated ideas and planning the solution from this mindset.

2. Creative People Are Products Of “The Education System”

“When you take the free will out of education, that turns it into schooling.” 
― John Taylor Gatto

The education system could be an easy scapegoat to blame for the marginalising of creative-minded people. When you don’t fit into a system that’s designed for linear thinkers, there are no end-of-year prizes — only ‘could do better’ comments.

Most (if not all) education systems are run as bureaucracies. And bureaucracies aren’t creative-minded because this involves getting out of the enclosure and letting random ideas run loose.

It means trial. And error. Unacceptable in organisations relying on structure to prove progress.

And here’s where the problem lays. Playing it safe doesn’t lead to innovation as many entrepreneurs have found.

While creatives continue playing it safe, they’ll never value themselves more than the system that aims to enclose them and their ideas.

To break out of this pattern think ‘extreme’ — explore the ideas about how you could be working. If you feel an excitement or a tension in your gut — you know you’re onto something.

It may be an old belief about your work, yourself or an old story you’ve been playing on a repetitive loop. It’s time to create a new belief, a new story — you’re creative. Play. Pretend. Dream.

3. Creative People Don’t Back Themselves

“High-achieving people have a tendency to be perfectionists and the same instincts that make us good students can make us lousy entrepreneurs.” — Reid Hoffman.

If the problem began in school, it continues at work.

It’s taken entrepreneurial outliers to challenge the rigid assumptions around how creative people get inspired.

And from those who’ve transitioned from low-paying creative thinking roles to mega-star performers, it’s more hacker-style than laissez-faire.

Mark Zuckerberg asks one simple question when considering a new software build by Facebook’s engineers: “Is this going to destroy the company? If not, then let them test it.”

LinkedIn Founder, Reid Hoffman, describes innovation as a fine line between fixable and fatal. It’s more about pushing experimentation to the limit as the “downside of mistakes is not as bad as missed opportunities”.

George Stigler, an economist describes it as “a lack of nerve” — a desire to play safe.

Creative people tip-toe along a fine edge between security and go-it-alone ventures. While the desire to stretch and be paid what you’re worth remains concreted in safety — you’re not backing yourself. And neither will anyone else.

What’s it going to take to back yourself?

4. Creative People Don’t Make Enough Mental Connections When It Comes To Their Own Career

“Typically creative people are usually not cock-slaves or list-makers, so the idea of enforcing goals and deadlines can be somewhat daunting.” — Kristin Armstrong

Research from Duke University says creative people have significantly more connections between the right and left hemispheres, predominantly in the frontal lobe.

brain- white matter connections.jpg


Highly creative people have significantly more white matter connections (shown in green) between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, according to a new analysis. Image courtesy of Daniele Durante, University of Padova

When those connections aren’t firing, or firing only on one side (meaning only one part of the brain is utilised) then a form of lethargy follows with lack of stimulation, curiosity and experimentation.

Creative people see ‘routine’ work as busy work. It zaps their energy and drives them to distraction.

To remain creative means to search for connections. And if you’re looking at being valued more — then use your creativity.

Be your next project.

Find the connections in the way you work, how you work and see yourself as offering and delivering value way above anyone around you.

5. Creative People Under-value Their Work

“I came to eat, not buy the restaurant.” — Pablo Picasso

When Picasso sketched on paper tablecloths at restaurants, owners asked if he would sign his creative work for them.

His response: “I came to eat, not buy the restaurant” is worth noting.

Undervaluing one’s own creative work is standard for many creative people.

It’s poverty-thinking. While many a starving artist may take the trade offered by a restaurateur — it’s in your self-perception that others will see your value. Reflect your value.

Because you’re creative and see connections easily, you find it simple to come up with an idea in a few minutes.

From others’ perspective, there’s a tendency to think old school: what’s your hourly-rate? Hourly rates belong in structured systems that measure outcome. Creativity belongs in another dimension — one where you set the rates in a way that reflects your value.

Here’s a similar story from the engineering world.

A machine in a factory malfunctioned. Onsite engineers couldn’t locate the problem.

They called in a well-known contractor with decades of experience with the machine. He arrives, looks at it for 2 minutes, then draws a chalk circle around a screw needing to be tightened.

He sends an account for $5,000.

“That’s ridiculous,” comes the response. “All you did was draw a circle around a screw!”

He then writes a new bill:
- Drawing a circle around a screw: $1.
- Knowing where to draw it: $4,999.

6. Creative People Are Forgetting How To Create Themselves

“If the rules of creativity are the norm for a company, creative people will be the norm.” — Jim Gilmore

Dan Wieden, a founder of the advertising agency Wieden & Kennedy, recalled words said by murderer Gary Gilmore prior to his execution: “Let’s do it”.

A simple tweak and the Nike slogan “Just Do It” was born.

The idea was already in existence. It took a creative mind to make the connection. How long did it take? Moments. Yet long enough for a company to trust it for the next 30 years.

How much is that thinking worth?

Who would find use for a glue that didn’t stick? Only a creative mind, Arthur Fry at 3M, who made connections and thought it would be perfect for a book mark in his hymnal at church.

Creative people understand that connections happen in unusual places at unusual times. Non-creative people work 9–5 and expect answers on-demand.

The creative brain never switches off. That’s valuable. Use it.

The Barbie doll emerged when Ruth Handler, a founder of Mattel, saw an unusual doll in the window of a cigarette shop in Switzerland. Vastly different from the baby dolls most little girls had at the time, she thought the shapely platinum blond could be a good toy for girls.

Because she didn’t speak German, she missed the fact it was a sex symbol sold mainly to men. Creative outcomes often mean ignoring ‘expected usage’.

The same concept applies with valuing your own creativity. Stop benchmarking yourself against expectations of how you work.

Instead break the mold. Ignore the instructions.

Think of yourself as a product with a new role.

7. Creative People Avoid Stressful Negotiations

“For all creative people, that’s sort of everyone’s journey. You feel something inside and it takes a while to figure out what that looks like and what your voice is.” — Ari Graynor

Negotiating your value when you don’t believe you have it means you’ll receive offers reflecting your thinking.

Initial offers are just that. A starting point.

As many creative people are often empathic, the idea of creating discomfort — or appearing too aggressive — causes angst.

Negotiations are expected as part of doing business.

This means bringing your creative brain to the table and finding creative solutions, packages and perspectives around how you present yourself.

Getting paid what you’re worth is a creative process. It’s not a set-in-stone deal. The issue is preparing for it — in the same way you solve any other problem — with your creative brain.


  • If you don’t believe your services are worth higher rates — neither will anyone else.
  • If you don’t believe in yourself — expect less work and lower return for your effort.
  • If you don’t back your ideas and yourself — neither will anyone else.
  • If you don’t learn to negotiate — accept you’ll be walking away with crumbs rather than the loaf.
  • It’s time to build your self-worth. And this happens with daily rituals. And with locating what is keeping you stuck in a style of thinking that’s dumbing down your beautiful creative mind.


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