It was always going to be tight. I found it hard to negotiate the notice period at my old job and the start date of my new job. Well, when I say ‘negotiate’, I mean I didn’t do that at all; I just did what everyone asked me to.
And so it was that I found myself at Queenstown airport yesterday, with heart racing and palms sweating. With all the demands from employers old and new, I ended up flying to a wedding in Queenstown for about 72 hours. What I didn’t know is that Queenstown is in the Top 10 most difficult-to-land-in airports in the world, with the runway flanked by mountains and choppy winds. The pilots tried to land twice, failed, then flew on to Christchurch to refuel and consider their options.
All this was revealed after we’d cleared customs and reached the gate, and so began a three-hour wait to see if the plane would come back to Queenstown, if it could land, and whether I could start my new job today.
I was pretty zen at first, but as the time dragged on, I cursed my decision to cut it so fine, and my failure – two year earlier – to negotiate down the excessive notice period in my contract.
Thank goodness for those lovely pilots at Jetstar (you didn’t think I’d be on a full-price airline did you?). They finally landed on the tarmac and hauled us back to Sydney.
Knowing your value
It’s a strange thing. If you ask me whether I’m good at my job, I’d say yes. My skills are in demand, I’m a specialist in my field, I bring a wide range of experience. And yet, I have never asked for a payrise. (Click here if you want some tips on that).
In fact, I forgot to ask about salary in my last performance review. I’ve never negotiated a starting salary, always taken what they offered.
This is nothing less than a failure on my part. Because most pay increases are incremental, the earlier you fatten your pay packet, the greater the increase next time. If I hadn’t been so damn nice, there’s a good chance I would make more money now.
This was brought into stark relief for me in the last few months. I was headhunted by a recruiter who was puzzled by the mismatch between my level of pay and years of experience. I stumbled and mumbled when he he asked what salary I was looking for next.
Then when my employer replaced me, they hired someone with less talent and paid him more. It makes me angry, but at myself more than anyone.
Here I am, cheerleading for the girl squad and telling them to take life and money and career by the balls, but I’m not the best example.
However, I’m trying. I had an ex-investment banker give me a stern talking-to at the wedding. I had an old client make me promise I wouldn’t resign again without him coaching me. I had a colleague promise her I’d never again say in an interview “I’m not that focused on money”. Yeah, that was an actual thing I said. WTF.
The cost of pleasing others
I’ve been trying to unpick the puzzle about why I’m my own worst enemy in this sense. Why do I dislike asking for money? Why do I feel uncomfortable putting a dollar value on myself?
One factor was a fear of the price I’d pay. I believed that if a company paid you more, they expected a pound of flesh for it. That every pay rise would come with a concomitant increase in work. That’s not the case, in reality. You learn to work smarter, you find balance by being good at what you do and you learn to create boundaries.
Another issue is impostor syndrome. I question, in my heart, whether I deserve more money. Whether I’m that good or useful or worthwhile. Usually I can tell that bitch inside my head to shut the hell up, but not all the time. Sometimes she stands at the edge of my thoughts and whispers such taunts to me.
But I think the biggest issue is my tendency to be a people-pleaser. I don’t want to rock the boat by being troublesome. I don’t want to be the difficult one who makes a fuss. I feel uncomfortable making others uncomfortable. And so I leave difficult conversations about money well alone.
So now that I have identified these issues I can work on them. I can be alert to my own pitfalls.
When I was in that airport, waiting for the plane to break through the clouds, I decided that I had hit rock bottom on people pleasing. Today is the day where I start saying no more often. Where I value myself and my skills and my time more dearly. Where I start learning how to put aside the discomfort of negotiation, and do it anyway. I can do hard things in other areas of my life, so surely I can do it here.
I tell you all this not just because I am a massive over-sharer (although I am), but as a cautionary tale. I see a lot of women consistently undervalue themselves or question their worth in dollar terms. Granted, I’ve also seen women go hard in negotiations, (sometimes against me, their boss!) and succeed in getting more than they had been offered.
The tendency not to make demands seems to sit somewhere alongside the female tendency want to be smaller, less troublesome, less Fierce.
The world pushes us to take up less space all the time: to diet away our body fat, not to get ‘too big’ (as a weightlifter, I’m sometimes warned against this fate). We are told to quieten our voices lest we be called ‘shrill’ (god knows I have been).
All of these are simply attempts to stop us owning our power, and I admit, I fall for it sometimes. I doubt myself, I question my talent, I wish to be leaner. And so do many, many women I know and love.
So I encourage you to question which behaviours are holding you back from being truly Fierce.
What is stopping you from owning your power? Because whether or not we acknowledge it, our wealth is tied up deeply with our power. Our power to demand something from the world. Our power to say, “I am here, working and caring and sweating and delivering, and I ask you to remunerate me accordingly”.
Nobody will give us anything more than we ask, so we must to learn to ask.
And I am learning to ask.
Photo credit: Queenstown Airport by Curtis Simmons