In this episode of the Fiscally Savage podcast, Dylan talks about the value part of the money equation — money is equal to the time you give plus the value you add — and how you can increase that value to take control of your life.
- [02:26] The equation on how to make money
- [03:10] Changing the value you add with the time that you have
- [04:08] How you can increase the value you add
- [07:48] The importance of understanding the system you are in and how it works
- [13:24] The reality that you are playing a game whenever money is involved
- [20:30] Practicing excellence as a way to increase the value you add
- [21:12] The “yeah-buts” and why you shouldn’t listen to them
- [25:35] Moving forward as a way to gain sovereignty
[00:00:00] Intro: Forget the civilized path. It’s time to break the chains of debt and dependency, take control of our financial lives, and live free. This is the Fiscally Savage podcast.
[00:00:15] Dylan Bain: Hello and welcome to Fiscally Savage. I’m your host, Dylan Bain. And today I wanna talk about value and adding value.
[00:00:23] I was sitting in the office at the firm that I worked at. It was one of the large Big Four accounting firms in the world. And I had been working there for a while. My senior had come in and he was sitting down talking to me and I was getting one of my reviews that I had been working at this firm now for two years and getting ready to be senior myself. And he tells me that a lot of what I do is very good. I have great insights. I’m a great team member. However, he needs my work to be more dialed in. And I’m sitting there asking myself, what does that even mean? I produce a lot. I’m one of his top producers. And I always come in on time and on budget. What does he mean by tuned in? Isn’t production of work papers the whole goal around here? That’s what we get paid for, right?
[00:01:11] But again, I’m sitting there and I’m understanding that I’m not paid for the production. I’m paid for the results. And the time of my managers and of the senior managers and of the partners is much more expensive for me. And in a competitive market, the firm that I’m working for needs to make sure that their costs are low. And so, the value of me is that I can produce a lot at a cheap rate. That said, I need to make sure that I’m being efficient and better, and communicating with my seniors and my managers so that they are spending less time on my work. And the value I have is if I’m able to produce the work papers in such a way that my seniors and managers can sign off on them quickly and efficiently and move on to the next thing.
[00:02:02] And so, I resolved to myself that I’m going to create a work paper closing checklist for myself to make sure that I’m always addressing the common comments that I got in terms of this review; that I have clear communication both up and down the chain of command so that the people that I’m managing are helping to manage me and that the people that are managing me are being managed by me, and therefore, we can be more efficient as a team.
[00:02:26] And ladies and gentlemen, the reason that this is important is that when we look at how money is made, there’s an equation. The money is equal to the time you give plus the value you add. And in the previous episode, we talked about the time aspect. How can we get time? And let’s just kind of review. We need to understand that this equation is true; that money is equal to the time we give plus the value we add; and that while it sounds simple, it’s not easy. Simple does not equate to easy. And that of the two inputs, the time and the value, your time is fixed. You can’t make or obtain more. And that we all might have the same 24 hours. But they’re not really the same 24 hours because we all start in different places.
[00:03:10] What we’re gonna talk about today is not the time part. Like I said, we covered that in a previous episode. See the link in the show notes for that. But we can change the value we add with the time that we have. ‘Cause remember, the equation is money is equal to the time you give plus the value you add. And so, if we can increase the value — and with modern technology, there is almost no limit to the amount of value we can add and the time we have if we’re intentional about it. But as we add that value, that is the scalable component that has the true potential to increase your earnings. It’s the value you add. Why is it that certain people in the economy get paid more for the same amount of time? Well, it might be because of the certifications they have, the skills they have, the experience they have. They’re paid for those things in proportion to the time that they’re going to give.
[00:04:08] Now, again, as with the previous episode, there’s an infinite level of nuance to this. And I’m not going to go down every last different way we can look at this. I am talking in generalities here and attempting to at least to make the point that we need to focus on what’s in our control. The whole tagline for the show is take control and live free. And this is the take control part. You need to understand that this equation, money is equal to the time you give plus the value you add, you control the time to an extent. But you control the value even more. So let’s accept reality quickly and accept the fact that the value we add is within our control. And let’s talk about how could we can actually increase that value and what steps we need to take.
[00:04:52] Step number one is understand what you’re actually paid for and work to maximize that one thing. Now, when I was in public accounting, I worked as an auditor. What that means is that I would come into a business, and my job was to examine their financial statements, and make sure, and provide what’s called quote-unquote reasonable assurance that their financial statements were free of material misstatement, meaning that you could rely on them to a certain extent to tune your decisionmaking as an investor or as a manager internally.
[00:05:27] Now, was that actually what we were paid for? Well, no. We were actually paid for our stamp of approval on those financial statements. So then the question — and then the stamp of approval was given by the partner, not by me. I didn’t have the authority to sign off on that stamp of approval. So me as the frontline staff, what was I actually being paid for? It wasn’t the stamp of approval. It wasn’t the reasonable assurance. It was the work papers I produced and the accounts that I looked at. And I was paid. And the reason they wanted me to do that work was because I was cheaper than the partners because I would work long hours and I could and I did. And I was paid and I was given better raises based upon how well I did managing the people above me and making sure that my work papers were clear and concise. And so, what I was trying to do was reduce the amount of time we spent on that engagement. Therefore, maximizing the amount of profit we could get. They paid me to be a good communicator and they paid me to be a thorough auditor. Those are the two things they paid me for.
[00:06:29] Now, juxtapose that to when I was a teacher. What was I actually being paid for? Was it student success, and test scores, and making sure that these students were college-ready because I did work at a charter school that specialized in college preparedness? Absolutely not. I was paid to keep my students’ scores just high enough that no one ever bothered to look at them. And I was paid to keep the parents and students happy so that the administration had the least amount of complaints possible. And you might think like, that’s terrible. You were a teacher. Like shouldn’t you be focused on the students? Well, yes. But that’s not what was incentivized and that’s not what was rewarded because this is what I’m saying. The value you add is within your control but you need to understand what you’re actually paid for.
[00:07:10] And in education, I was actually paid to do the bare minimum and make the least amount of waves. That’s terrible. That’s one of the reasons why I quit. And so, if you wanted to be successful at that school, if you wanted to have the opportunities, the raises, you know, and all the little extra benefits that you got that were not part of the compensation package, well, then you had to make the least amount of waves possible and make sure your test scores were just passable enough so that nobody ever bothered to look at it. Just like in public accounting, I had to make sure that my work papers were spot on, clearly communicated, and I needed to make sure that I managed the narrative that was heading up the chain of command. Those are the things I was actually paid for.
[00:07:48] So once you understand what you’re actually paid for, understand the system you are in and how it works. That’s step two. Understand the system you are in and how it works. If you wanna add value, you wanna increase the value, you need to know what the value is and how the system actually perceives and processes value.
[00:08:07] For example, in education, like I said, the value was to keep my test scores just high enough that no one really noticed to make the fewest waves possible. Well, the system that I was in, I had to also put on a good show because if I — I could have done that by just doing the bare minimum in the classroom. But they had put themselves out there as a charter school that specialized in college preparatory work. And so, I had to put on a good show. The shirt, the tie, showing up at a particular time, doing the extracurricular things. Those are all part of what they had as the school ecosystem that was valuable to the show because that’s what the system expected to see. And so, I needed to be able to ask myself how to be successful in that environment. Eventually, it became very clear that I could not maintain my ethics and be part of the school system so let’s move over to accounting.
[00:08:55] Well, in that corporate world, understanding the system and how to be successful is part of the game here. So how do you know that? Well, you can talk to your seniors, and you can talk to the partners, and you can talk to everyone in the firm. What are we actually doing? Well, everybody has the tagline to say, well, we provide reasonable assurance in these financial statements for the benefits of the financial markets, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But at the end of the day, the system was to collect fees from the customer. And so, how do I be successful in this system? And what is it gonna take to actually be successful?
[00:09:27] So in my case, it was, I had to make sure that I had a checklist with my work papers when they were closed because I didn’t want to forget something that was gonna cause the senior to have to send the work paper back to me further work and then send it back to them because then they’d have to touch it twice. It was the system that I’m working in is rewarding the least number of touches possible if I can get away with it. And so, creating a system for myself to be able to interface with a system that is the firm was the first step to success.
[00:09:57] Now, you might not actually fully understand the system. And in most places, they don’t — what the actual system is versus the advertised system are two separate different things. One thing that I have come to understand or at least that I believe whenever I walk into a new environment or into a new system is whatever the propaganda is — that is, whatever the flow chart says, whatever they tell me what was going on — I just assumed that that is just the company line and that that’s not reality.
[00:10:22] Now, I started to look for what is actually the reality. I will promise you that there is somebody in that organization, no matter what organization it is, who will tell you everything you need to know if you just ask. So you can start with your, ask your manager. And just ask them point blank what do they need from you that’s going to be of value to them and put it in those terms. Whatever they tell you, don’t argue with it. Just do it. Because, again, understand the system that you’re in and how it works.
[00:10:49] I have been told throughout my career in many different places that we value innovation. Our employees are the most important asset that we have as a company. Both of those things are wrong, and neither of those companies believe those things. The system that I was in, in both cases, the employees were an expense and they always are, and innovation was severely punished because what they wanted to do was put as much stuff through their system as humanly possible. So it was all about, what was the value to the manager? To give him just enough that he could say, well, he was being innovative, but at the same time, actually changing extremely little.
[00:11:25] The other thing is, what does success look like? In some cases, innovation is in fact success. In my current employment, what we are doing is we have all these initiatives to try to figure out ways to streamline workflows and be more efficient. Well, what does success actually look like? Well, in having a conversation with the people in the innovation office, they’re telling me that success is we wanna, you know, save X number of hours so that those employees can go do extra things. But when you talk to the higher-ups, they say that they want to reduce the full-time equivalents or FTE count.
[00:11:55] Okay. So what does success actually look like? If I’m going to work in the innovative customer innovation space and I want to start creating and streamlining workflows, I have to understand the success looks like eliminating jobs within the company. And that needs to be the focus; to drive down that count, and therefore, drive down that cost. But this also creates another opportunity that if I can find another place where I’m able to innovate, streamline, or otherwise save us time that’s also going to save us money, that’s the end of the day what we’re going for. The FTE count just happens to be the low-hanging fruit on this.
[00:12:29] So understanding the system that you’re in and how it works is extremely important because you can’t really trust that the system is going to be honest with you as to what it wants. You need to understand what success looks like. You need to ask for people along the way to help you out with understanding it. You need to ask those that are successful how they built their success, and how you can then replicate that in your own career.
[00:12:54] Ladies and gentlemen, this step is really hard because I’m making it sound like there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors. And there is. But this is also a crucial step. Because if you don’t understand the system, then there’s no way for you to add value. And you end up playing a game you don’t fully understand. We’ve all been in a game of Calvinball where the rules change constantly and seem to change at a whim, arbitrarily. Well, I would argue that that’s not actually what’s going on. We just not, might not fully understand the system that we’re in.
[00:13:24] So step one, understand what you’re actually paid for and work to maximize that one thing. Step two, understand the system you are in and how it works. Step three, you’re playing a game, so play it well.
[00:13:37] Oftentimes, I see people take themselves way too seriously. And they start thinking of like, well, I’m a teacher, and therefore, I have this noble thing, what I’m supposed to do with these children, and educate them and citizens, and blah, blah, blah, blah. No, no, no. Education’s a game. School’s a game. If you’re going through school or you’re teaching school, you’re playing a game. And understand that this is a game. The game has rules. There are going to be winners and there are gonna be losers. And it’s in your best interest to play it well.
[00:14:03] One of the things that people will say to me when I point this out is they say, well, but I don’t wanna be in competition with everybody. As if competition is a bad thing. You know, newsflash: it’s not. But let’s just stop and think about how most competitions work. Sports are the ones you can point to. Well, sports are a competition, but they’re also incredibly cooperative, aren’t they? You have two teams of people who show up. And they hire an independent third party that will enforce the rules within the realms of that game because that’s how dedicated to cooperating and playing this game that they are, even though they’re on opposing sides.
[00:14:37] In the corporate world or the not prop world or the government world or whatever world or game or you’re playing, I promise you there’s going be those other third parties that are going to be enforcing those rules. So play the game. Understand that you’re playing the game. Understand that there is literally nowhere in your life in which money’s involved that it isn’t a game of some sort. So you can accept that reality quickly and start learning how to play it really well.
[00:15:01] There will be a limit to how well you can play this game though. Understand that you can play the game flawlessly and still lose. For example, if you’re working over at the Starbucks and you’re slinging lattes, you might be the best latte slinger that has ever lived and ever will live, and it won’t pay you any more than the guy who’s standing next to you who’s really, really bad at it. This is the saddest part about this game. It’s that you can learn to play it, you need to be playing it well, and then whatever game you’re in at this point will have its limits in compensation.
[00:15:39] Remember, the equation is money is equal to the time you give plus the value you add. In the case of the lattes, there’s only so much value you can add. Your value is to make the latte and hand it to the customer. You can refine that down to its absolute best, most sharp delivery possible, and it still won’t matter because at the end of the day, you’re kept out by how the rules of the game get played. And so what this means for you is that when you’re looking at the value that you’re gonna add into this equation, you need to play to win for you and your goals, not necessarily the company’s goals.
[00:16:21] Going back to the slinging lattes example, if you slinging latte is faster than anyone else, that company is reaping a benefit through the volume of sales that you’re able to push through the system. But you, sir, will not be paid for those lattes you push through the system. No, no, no. The company’s gonna take that. And so, while you’re adding more value, you’re not necessarily getting paid for it, which people will say, well, see? Your equation doesn’t work. Well, accept, understand that you’re playing the game. And part of the rules of that game are you don’t get to keep all the money that’s made because the money was actually made, it just wasn’t made for you. And that’s hard to swallow. So at the end of the day, you need to play to win for you and for your goals. If you’re slinging lattes and you’re pushing money through the system, and you’re not capturing that money, the question you need to be asking yourself is, what am I learning that’s gonna make me be able to add value in such a way that I get to capture the money?
[00:17:18] So let’s just review. The value you add is within your control. And there are three steps to being able to seize that control. Number one, understand what you’re actually paid for and work to maximize that one thing. Number two, understand the system you are in and how it works. And number three, you’re playing a game, so learn to play it well. And remember, ladies and gentlemen, the equation is always the same. Money is equal to the time you give plus the value you add. But as we’ve just seen, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re gonna get to keep the money that you created.
[00:17:47] So all this leads to say that when you’re looking at how you add value, you always need to be playing the game for the next step up. And this comes into a topic we’re gonna cover ad nauseam, which is your vision. You need to have a vision for what you’re going for. And sometimes, that’s just writing down a one, five, and 10-year goal. Why would you do this? Well, because it’s gonna give you focus, and it’s going to help you ask the question, is this playing for my benefit? Or is this playing for somebody else’s benefit? But if you don’t know where you’re going, you have no way to ever get there. And so, you really need to sit down and understand what you’re playing for.
[00:18:26] When I left teaching and I walked out of the classroom at the last day after handing in my keys, turning in my grade book, and that was it. No more teacher Bain. I knew with absolute certainty what my next steps were and what games I was going to be playing. I was going back to graduate school. I was gonna get my CPA. I was gonna get a job at the Big Four. That was my vision. That was my one-year vision was to be top of my class and secure as many scholarships as possible. My five-year vision was to make manager. Now, things changed as we went along, but I knew where I was going and that focus gave me clarity and purpose.
[00:19:03] And so, I was able to look at the value I’m adding, understanding what I was actually going to be paid for, and working to create the skills that I needed so I could maximize that one thing. Understanding public accounting as a system and how it worked by asking people and alumni who were coming back to career fairs, networking events, what made them successful? And how could they do it? What was the value add thing that they wished they had learned in school rather than on the job? What does success look like and how can I start demonstrating that I can be successful in that way while in graduate school? And playing the game really, really well and understanding that I needed — in order to get as many runs as possible in this game — I needed as many at-bats as possible and pushing myself into positions where I could swing and miss if that’s what it took. But eventually, I’d connect and hit the home run. And I did.
[00:19:53] But Dylan, I hear you saying, I don’t know what I want to do. Maybe I’m 18 years old and I’m too young to actually have a vision. Or maybe I’m 40 and things are closing up on me. I really don’t care where you’re at. I do know this one thing though. If you don’t actually know where you want to be or where you want to go, then learn how to be excellent at everything you do. You can look at yourself and ask yourself this one question: if I was dedicated to excellence, would I have more opportunities or less opportunities? And I think we all know what that answer is.
[00:20:30] If you don’t know what to do, then just practice excellence. Take pride in the things that you do. Learn how to stand up and be counted, how to be seen. When other people tell you, no, you’re just slinging lattes. Who cares? No. I’m a master of my craft. I’m the type of person who is excellent. And I practice excellence in everything I do. So if you don’t know what your plan is, you don’t know what your vision is, and you find yourself just intimidated by the idea of a one, five, and 10-year goal, practice excellence. Because when you do find that one, five, and 10-year goal, having been excellent will have given you the skills to start moving on those goals immediately rather than the lead up time that so often intimidates people out of actually pursuing their dreams.
[00:21:12] The last thing about adding value, and really about the money equation in general, are the yeah-buts. Now, the yeah-buts are a group of people that I encounter all the time in my life, although it’s starting to diminish as I’ve continued to raise my level and move forward in my own life. And they all have this one call that they make. It’s like a bullfrog chirping over there in the wetlands. And they all go “Yeah, but.” “Yeah, but it’s not that easy. “Yeah, but there’s this other thing.” “Yeah, but I got a wife and kids.” “Yeah, but I don’t have the money.” “Yeah, but I’m the wrong this, that, or the other thing.” “Yeah, but I’m neurodivergent.” And on, and on, and on.
[00:21:53] Ladies and gentlemen, I hear you. I understand where you’re at. When I left teaching, I had every reason not to. I had a steady career. I was supporting a wife through graduate school. I had one kid already and another on the way. I have been diagnosed with ADHD. I was a terrible student in undergrad. I graduated with a 2.7 and that by the skin of my teeth. So when I said to everybody around me, hey, I’m gonna quit this teaching thing, this stable job that doesn’t pay the bills, but at least it’s stable, and at least I have health insurance, even if my family does not. They all just said, yeah, but Dylan, you have to understand. Blah, blah, blah, blah.
[00:22:35] Yes, none of this is easy. And none of it is easy. Self-improvement is not easy. Simple, but not easy. It’s really hard, and it’s really worth it. All of this will require you to fail repeatedly and fail well. There are the three F’s of failure. Fail fast, frequently, and forward. You’re gonna screw this up and it’s gonna be intimidating. And you have to have the faith that it’s going to work.
[00:23:00] The number of interviews and networking opportunities that I went to and I failed. My very first mock interview, I walked in, I gave an interview, and I thought I was wearing the perfect suit. I had my hair was perfectly done and I just, I thought I nailed the interview. And so, when it came opportunity feedback, I asked the guy, “Would you hire me?” And he laughed in my face and said, “Absolutely not. You’re a disaster.” And from that failure, I learned all the keys to the kingdom. And the yeah-buts would say, “Yeah, but you can’t be successful.” “Yeah, but you failed.” “Yeah, but this isn’t the right path.” And I said, to hell with that.
[00:23:42] The yeah-buts are gonna be all around you, ladies and gentlemen. And they’re going to say, “Yeah, but I am [insert thing] here.” “Yeah, but you are [insert thing] here.” And the reality of it is it’s likely to be true. And the question you need to start asking yourself is, and therefore what? And now what? What does that even mean? Well, it means that what they’re doing is they’re calling out the obstacles in your way. And the obstacle, as Ryan Holiday said in his book, is the way. They don’t put roadblocks out in the middle of a farm field. They put them on the way forward.
[00:24:17] And so when the yeah-buts come through, and they see the obstacles, and they wish to sit down right then and there, and do absolutely nothing, you need to ask yourself, where is my sovereignty? If I listen to a yeah-but, then I am giving my sovereignty to them and allowing them to put the shackles on my arms. And I will never move beyond that point. What is at the core of the yeah-but? Ask them that. At the core, what are you really worried about? “Yeah, but you have a family.” Yes, and my current wages are poverty wages, and my daughters will never be able to have the opportunities that I want to be able to provide for them and that they deserve.
[00:24:55] So if I listen to the yeah-but, what does that even mean for my life? Why would I let them tell me what I can and cannot do? Am I in control? Do I want to be in control? Is my circle helping me head in my direction? Or am I surrounded by yeah-buts who just want me to stay right where I am most likely for their own comfort? Whenever you start talking about increasing value, remember: money equals the time you give plus the value you add. The yeah-buts are gonna be there to tell you, “Yeah, but it’s not that simple.” “Yeah, but it’s not that easy.” Well, it’s not that easy, but it is that simple.
[00:25:35] We have to start taking control of our lives. We have to seize our sovereignty and grow our sovereignty and our skill sets and head in our direction that we wish to go for our goals. And the yeah-buts be damned because this is the only way we go forward. There are many paths up the mountain. But at the end of the day, they all go up. And so up is the only direction that matters. And “Yeah, but that might be hard.” And ladies and gentlemen, it’s on us to wake up every day and greet that challenge with a fire in our belly and a song in our heart.
[00:26:12] And I remember when I first got to this place, where I started to see where I could add value, where I could take control of this equation. Standing at the career fair waiting to talk to a partner at a target firm for myself, I had listed them all out and I’m standing there with my list and I know this partner’s name and I’m so excited to talk to him. And as I’m standing in line, I’m listening to the people ahead of me ask the same questions with the same points, getting the same answers, and I’m looking at this partner realizing how bored he is in this situation.
[00:26:46] And I’m struggling inside of myself because wasn’t this what we were coached to do? Wasn’t this what we were told? We were supposed to come to the career and ask these questions in these orders and get this information. And now, we all sound like robots and this partner’s bored. And I’m standing here because I want the value of getting this opportunity to pitch myself for the job and I don’t know what to do. And suddenly, I realize it’s not about me. It’s about the value that that partner is looking for me to provide. These questions were designed to help us, give us that opportunity. But it’s not about us. And it’s not about the questions. It’s about the value that we represent. And they’re here looking for people to help make them money. That’s why they’re here.
[00:27:36] And so, when it’s my turn to talk to the partner, I’m stepping up to him and I’m looking him in the eye, and I put out my hand with a firm handshake, introduce myself. And I’m asking the partner, what’s important to you, sir, in a candidate that is? Where is the best opportunity for me to add value to your firm? Ladies and gentlemen, if I had splashed him in the face with a bucket of water, he would’ve been less surprised. He actually starts stuttering, unsure how to answer this question that clearly no one’s ever asked him. And then he starts telling me everything I needed to know about how to get a job and be successful in public accounting. So much so that everyone else behind me ended up being ignored. And our discussion turned into lunch, just me and the partner as he explained to me how to add the value I needed to succeed.
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