One of the best conversations I had at the Financial Blogging Conference was a brief chat over dinner about how men and women differ at finances, and how women are generally more afraid of asking for a raise. I consider myself a solid negotiator when I’m first hired and setting an initial salary, and when it comes to negotiating for other people — or even my company (I’ve saved us thousands of dollars through negotiations with various sponsorship opportunities) — so why does it seem so unfathomable to ask for a raise in my current work environment?
After listening to folks like Ramit Sethi talk about how to go for the big wins, and just ask with confidence to get what you want, I felt a big kick to my stomach for my fears of moving up in the work world. Other than my “fear of conflict” boyfriend, do men — as a generalized group — have as much trouble asking for raises or believing they’re worth more than they’re paid?
It’s hard for me to fathom asking for a raise in this economy. My company could probably afford to give me a raise, but I feel guilty and selfish to ask to be paid more when my current income is enough for me to live a modest lifestyle as a single person in a shared housing situation and even occasionally splurge on a tech toy or two. The question of how much do I “need” to live on is so subjective. Right now I make $90,000 a year and that’s an odd place to be. To many people in the country right now — it’s a HUGE salary. But then there are lots of people making $100,000… $130,000… $150,000… $170,000… and how did they get there? It doesn’t really matter. Shouldn’t I just shut up and be happy with what I’m getting and try to improve myself so maybe, just maybe at some point down the line my boss will decide I’m worth more than that for a permanent salary adjustment?
Oh, right, that’s not how raises work. I don’t want to be greedy. I don’t feel like I deserve to have a job given that I’m not perfect, so it’s hard to even contemplate asking for more money. Yes, I think I add value to the organization. Yes, I’ve been the only person in a department that could probably use a team of at least five people to be run successfully — even though deep down I believe that I’m just a failure and that my inability to have superhuman powers and never sleep and do a perfect job 100% of the time is really all about me just being rather dumb. How could a dumb person ask for a raise? I feel like I should ask for a raise for my coworkers who are clearly deserving of it…
But what does “deserving” have to do with getting a raise anyway? I don’t know what I’m worth or how to improve what I’m worth. Does going back to grad school and getting an MBA or masters in something or other suddenly make me officially worth six+ figures? I don’t want to be unreasonable. I already feel unreasonable thinking about asking for more money.
It would be nice if I made enough to put more money into savings and live on my own. Not a necessity. It would be nice if I made enough to buy a “new” used car. Not a necessity (yet.) It would be extra nice if I could go to Bloomingdales and Nordstrom and buy Trina Turk and BCBG and all the fashionable brand name clothes each season, even though that is definitely NOT a necessity. It would be lovely to have the money to spend on a personal trainer and weight loss coach, but do I really need that?
I could live on less and I could live on more. All I want to do now is save money so I can feel ok about having kids a few years down the line. While I can certainly cut back on my spending, the only way to really save significantly more money is to make more money. I can either push for that additional income at work, I can find a side income stream (not that I have time for that given how many hours are focused on my day job), or I can just be happy with what I have now, which is much more than most people in America currently make. I should be happy with my shared three bedroom apartment, my about-to-fall-apart car, my very slow networth growth which isn’t being helped any by the gloomy stock market… I should be happy with some sort of semi-consistant middle class life. If anything, I don’t want to give my supervisors a reason to ask me to leave. Maybe I’m not the cheapest employee, but the second I become too expensive for what i’m worth, I’ll risk losing my job and being replaced with someone else.
So I’ve been with the company for a year and a half now, and officially full time for a year. If my boss wanted to give me a real raise, he would. And clearly he doesn’t. And it’s not like I even successfully got through every single one of my projects for the last quarter. I just look at all the other people in the company and feel so insecure about my work and my mind. I mean, I just feel incredibly stupid and like I don’t fit in. All I want to do is contribute enough so that people say, wow, she’s worth x dollars more because she is a huge help to this company. Right now, I feel like my ideas aren’t worth a dime because they’re rarely any good. So I can’t ask for a raise, all I can do is try my best to somehow be smarter, sharper, funnier, more witty, more spot on, more in line with what everyone wants. To mold myself into the perfect form to help fill in whatever voids exist until someone better comes along to fill in that space, and then like jello nudged over I slither into the next hole.
I just wish I knew if other people, specifically other men, have this sort of mindset to begin with… is it that people who are confident are just amazing, smart, and know it — or do some people just know how to fake it better than I do? How often do people… my colleagues past and present… really ask for things they want, like raises and other additional benefits? If I could just see into the transparent world around me of the politics that underly the corporation I’d at least know what’s reasonable to want and to ask for. Meanwhile, all I can do is think how my current role is setting me up for a decent salary jump at my “next” job, so even sticking it out in this current spot for a while is a good move. I really love my job, the people I work with, but it’s also stressful, difficult, and I have no idea how much a guy or anyone else in my position would be making in this same exact role (other than what Salary.com says, and that information is too vague to be relavant.)