The Fallacy of Charging What You are Worth

One of the mantras of small business capitalism is “charge what you are worth”. My colleagues in the community acupuncture revolution take a different view of reality.

Yesterday, an old client of CommuniChi called and said he was bringing a friend to come in for a first treatment. He encouraged me to charge his friend $100 for the treatment in order to glamorize my acupuncture services and counter any impression of cheapness or inferiority that my “$20 to $40 sliding scale” might convey. I laughed.

This month marks my sixteenth year as an acupuncturist and I’ve played both sides of the money game. Early in my career, I did charge $100 to $150 for a first treatment, depending upon what I could justify in the Kafkaesque world of managed care insurance billing. The insurance companies and a few cattle ranchers with deep pockets paid my fee and my ego swelled, intoxicated by my higher fee. Of course, I was worth every cent I told myself.

It is a hazardous undertaking to one’s integrity, attempting to monetize health care in a world of distorted values where many individuals can not afford to get the health care they need. I volunteered with non-profits like Acupuncturists Without Borders, or Kang Wen Clinic in order to fulfill my sense of professional ethics.  Unfortunately the collective impact of all the non-profit charities in the world has yet to rectify the short comings of capitalism where a few people have the best of everything and billions of humans scrape by with the left overs and trickle down charity of the one percent. I still do volunteer work because I have the time and there is so much need in the world, but I no longer use volunteer work as justification for making the primary service of my social business unaffordable to the working class.

I’m proud of co-founding the first community acupuncture clinic in Washington state, and happy that Seattle now has more community acupuncture clinics than perhaps any city in the world. Change always bring challenges, and while patient volumes fluctuate from month to month and year to year, my bottom line hasn’t been affected. Do you know why? Because my bottom line ceased being a number and now is a way of life. Compassion and health justice don’t have a price tag. Sure, I’ll concede that every self-employed entrepreneur has to plant his or her feet on the ground and  figure out how to run a sustainable business that pays the bills. But how much is enough? Is the “charge what you are worth?” mentality sustainable?

On a similar note, another mantra of life coaches revolves around the concept of abundance. This is tricky. If, when we are encouraged to think of unlimited abundance, we are talking about the infinite human potential for love, compassion, and creativity – I am all for that. But if that concept slips and slides down into notions such as “charge what you are worth”, then we may be deluding ourselves, to the extent that we pretend our existence is somehow more special than any of the other infinite life forms that walk, swim, and fly around on this planet, only seeking happiness and the avoidance of suffering. Peace, Jordan

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