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Would You Rather Be Underpaid or Overrated?


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Would You Rather Be Underpaid or Overrated?

Chris Schneck

Jay-Z asks, “Would you rather be Underpaid or Overrated?” 

After Kanye finishes his verse in “So Appalled,” Jay picks up the mic and picks up the hyperbolic riff. He claims to have gone from the favorite to the most hated, as he reminds the listener of his topsy-turvy reign atop the Rap Throne. 

With the next verse, Jay-Z seems to remember the amount of money in the bank account, and the identity of the wife he goes home to at the end of the day. Through his lyrics, he seems to shake his head, shrug it off, and decide that being overrated is preferable to being underpaid.

What do you think? Would you rather be underpaid or overrated? Anyone could answer, but this privileged question seems to “plague” white millennials more than any other demographic.

We have so many opportunities for employment, which diverge in so many different directions. We can log hours in the basement of a consulting firm; we can hop a plane and teach in China; we can take on some more debt and enroll in the graduate school of our choosing.

Most jobs, however, involve coming down on one side or the other of being underpaid or overrated.  

My perspective is unique: For the last three years, I have been underpaid and overrated.


I have been a public school teacher affiliated with Teach For America, and I earned a bit over $40,000. I made a bit more when I tutored after-school, and another bit more when I became chair of the Science Department. I still made less than most of my friends, who could swipe their Visas at the bar without a second thought.

I went to a good school, got good grades, and have an attractive resume, especially when I splurge for the ivory colored and cotton threaded resume paper. I could have been making more, but I wasn’t.


I taught in a Title I school, which was staffed by mostly older, black women. Most of them were better teachers than me, but my principal didn’t think so. He thought I was a great teacher, and certainly better than the rest.

I benefitted from my privilege as a white individual in America. Then, because I was a guy, I got to double down on my privilege. I was a good teacher, but never the great one envisioned by my principal. I was overrated because of my privileged upbringing. 

You see, I have been pegged as a “leader” since my mom packed my lunch. I have been in charge of as many clubs as you can count. I have had internships and fellowships and research positions. I am as comfortable at a cocktail party as I am in a courtroom. I know how to talk you into something, and how to talk my way out of anything. If you squint your eyes, I could look like any President of the United States or CEO of a Fortune 500 company. In America, my skin color and my gender were destined to lead others, command respect, and not take shit from anyone. All of these things made me seem like a great teacher when I really wasn't. 

Identifying as underpaid or overrated is a false dichotomy.

Jay-Z should ask, and we should consider, if we are underpaid or undervalued.  We should consider if we are overrated or in over our heads. 

I can stand being underpaid. I can't stomach being undervalued or under-appreciated.

It’s not so bad being overrated. It’s downright terrifying to be in over your head. It is exhausting to tread water and just manage to keep your head above the crashing waves.

So, I’ll take being underpaid and overrated. Just make sure I don’t end up being undervalued and in over my head. 

Photo Attribution: Watch the Throne: Jay-Z & Kanye West December 2011 by U2Soul is licensed under CC BY 2.0 Enhanced from the original.