I’d heard this statement more than a few times before I observed this gross generalization firsthand. As pigeonholing and stereotyping go, it could be argued that the recent influx of young workers at my company want to work less and feel they deserve to be paid more. But since I was raised to focus on my own production and not worry about others, this prejudice shouldn’t have mattered to me. The problem was that I was hearing this directly from my friends who are executives running the company I work for.
Then I accidently found out how much a recently hired coworker was earning.
Confusion consumed me, paralyzing me with anger over how much this hurt. I've been employed here eleven years. This apprentice was hired making just slightly less me. My discovery sprung many questions. Am I a weak person because I haven’t asked to be better compensated? Is it because the company knows that I have little options because I am a single parent? Is it because of my age? Is it because of my gender? Is it because I’m not ‘juiced’ in with the right people? My new coworker and I are not even close to equals when it comes to knowledge, wisdom, and experience; why is that person immediately making nearly the same amount? What is the reason I'm not earning much more than this person with so little experience?
These doubt-filled, answerless questions went on frustrating me for weeks. I was drunk from dawn till dusk with my own sour elixir of resentment and low esteem. I could not stop comparing. The spinning was affecting the one thing I was enduring it all for: my ability to parent.
Providing for my daughter was my reason for staying employed. I could not just up and quit to look for another opportunity elsewhere. After all, I could not stockpile enough insulin and durable medical goods to be safe and clear. My daughter’s life depends on my being employed. She has Type 1 diabetes.
I decided I would try to be open minded. I prayed. I put out ‘feelers’ to see what else was out there. Meanwhile bitterness continued simmering just below the surface. The best advice I received was to look elsewhere; that it could only help. So, I did. Through my church I was introduced to someone that worked at my employers’ largest competition. I applied there using her as a reference and was offered a job with them. Suddenly, I was on dangerous ground.
In the past I had seen other coworkers get job offers, then go to our owners and make an ultimatum. They were immediately let go. For me that would be devastating. I had to find a way to prove my value to the company. I had to believe I was worthy of a figure; one which they needed to meet while using the opportunity to go elsewhere as leverage without sacrificing my option to do so. I honestly did not want to leave my company. I simply wanted them to show me financially what I knew I was worth, yet never had the courage to ask for.
I had to believe in me.
Our competitor is a national corporation. The original offer they gave me, I refused. For the first time ever, I played the game. I was in the driver seat. I now had the opportunity to play out scenarios to my best benefit; an option I was never given at any time prior. The second offer was much better. It had to be worth more than what I would be sacrificing to even consider taking it.
Bear in mind I had never done anything like this. I was often the first to withdraw from a situation once it got rough; never one to consistently keep up the tough attitude it takes to be a mainstay in the business world. I was uncomfortable even though I was presented with the ability to entertain this. I was always one to take the first offer; never one to barter. I thought the best thing I could do for people was to say yes; to make sure they would like me.
The situation was becoming strangely empowering. I say strangely because it was like jumping off a cliff into an unknown abyss. The outcome was either that I pull off a miracle or a massive train wreck. If I wanted to proceed I had to do so very, very cautiously.
After talking myself out of it twice, I eventually set up a meeting with the owners of the company. In my spare time I had typed up a bullet list of all the resourcefulness I brought. Over and over part of me kept telling me to let this go. I’ve always believed in the power of intuition, but I felt I could not be clear on whether or not I was hearing my inner voice or my inner doubts.
This is something I had to do, though. If I simply put in my notice and accepted the other job, I would have let myself down because I did not at least try to make my own situation better. It would have caught up with me that I was running away. It would be like calling the grass greener somewhere else, in effect, refusing to water the grass my livelihood was being built upon. It was time to face the music.
I showed up early for our meeting. My mouth was dry, palms sweaty, heart racing so fast I could hear it pound in my head. I was dehydrated. I told myself it was time to be a grown up. My daughter’s future was worthy of my trying my hardest, even if I didn’t think I was. I politely greeted them and thanked them for their time. They graciously allowed me to compose myself and take a deep breath before beginning.
I went over my bullet list roughly. They just blankly stared and me, interacting minimally until I was finished.
“Is that all you have?”
“That’s pretty much it.”
They thanked me again for bringing to their attention some of the personal issues I’ve observed regarding company policies; ideas for Continuous Improvement. A few were centered around promotions I was overlooked on yet jobs I am held accountable for. They asked if I had any questions for them. I had none. It was quiet for a moment. I felt dead in the water, ready to be harpooned and sent a walking out the door.
But then they both rolled up their sleeves and went to work on me. Both had very thoughtful responses to the information I had gathered to make my point. They had not only listened very carefully to what I had to say, they pondered heavily the concepts I had presented. Every bit of my energy had not been wasted, in fact, our meeting turned into a brainstorming session.
Our last interaction was positive. They assured me they would seriously ponder my quest. There was no doubt in my mind they took the meeting seriously. I pulled over alongside the freeway heading home. My eyes filled with tears of joy.
“It doesn’t matter what they say now, does it?”
I asked myself aloud. My voice cracked as I laughed simultaneously as tears streamed down my cheeks. No, the outcome didn’t matter. What matters is that I faced my fears. I stood up for what I believed to be right and true: myself and my work ethic. I hugged myself a good tight squeeze in elation of caring for the scared, small feeling person inside. From that day forward, “I can do this,” were no longer words.