Doing hard things, part 1: nothing horrible has happened (yet)

Listen, y’all, I’m going to tell you a secret: I have never once in my life asked for or negotiated a raise.

For my first big girl job, I was coming off of two months of unemployment and would’ve (and did) accepted the first thing offered to me with zero questions asked. For my current job, it was such a step up in terms of salary and job description that I didn’t feel it was my place to fight for more, other than the obligatory asking if that was the highest they could go. Plus they told me that they were paying me a bit extra because raises were coming out in a few months, which I’d miss out on, so I’d have to wait until the next year for a raise.

So, okay.  I got a 3% raise last year as a cost of living increase. I didn’t ask for more then, especially because my job was…let’s just say up in the air as a result of the reorganization happening in my department. Not in the sense that I’d be let go eventually, but in that no one knew (or still knows) what my job will ultimately look like.

But a switch flipped for me last week.

A year later and I’m sick of waiting

Here I’d been, sitting demurely at my desk, holding the same title and job description I’d been hired with back in 2016—even though that position hasn’t existed for a year and I’ve been doing a whole lotta everyone’s busy work in the meantime—and putting up no fuss about everything I’ve been asked to do that’s way above my pay grade. Because I’m sure at some point when the reorganization of my department shakes out (finally) I’ll be given an awesome new title and an equally awesome raise.


Excuse me while I go laugh at myself. If you Google “that’s not in the budget,” a goddamn picture of our company appears in the results (I mean, no not really, but boy have we got all the excuses when it comes to paying people a decent wage).

That passive acceptance changed last week when a coworker from another department stuck her head in the door to my office and asked if I was interested in applying for her job since she’s leaving in a few weeks. I thought about it, decided, yeah it was definitely an intriguing possibility, and we made a lunch date to talk about her job on Monday.

And then I immediately called a coworker in my department—who is one of my favorite people ever and who I’ve been hoping I’ll eventually work much more closely with—to give her a heads up that I might not be moving into her office as planned.

The importance of having amazing people rooting for you

Not only did she encourage me to apply for the internal job, she encouraged me to go ahead and send an email to HR that day asking for a meeting to discuss an immediate title change (thinking about a potential title for post-reorganization is a moot point because ???? so this would be for now/the last year of not really having an official job) and salary adjustment, especially because I can use the other job as leverage.

So I did (eek!) and had the meeting Friday morning. It’ll be at least a week before the necessary high-level conversations can happen. I was feeling just okay about the meeting, until that coworker dropped back by to discuss not only how it went, but just how many things I can put on my resume that are NOT admin assistant responsibilities (and hence, I need a new title and compensation for that work). I left that conversation feeling a lot better about doing all of this, and newly fired up about how much of a leg I have to stand on.

(I spent two months last year on a project that’s apparently highly technical, advanced work that people will pay a shit ton to have done. I knew it was above my pay grade at the time, but I didn’t know the exact term for that work or just how far above my pay grade it was. Now I do, thanks to my amazing coworker! That shit is going on my resume.)

Wanting to throw up every time I send an email is fun

This is all COMPLETELY NEW for me, and I’m on quite the rollercoaster of emotions lately. I’m vacillating from confident badass bitch who knows what she’s worth, knows her company in theory knows what she’s worth, and is going to make them acknowledge that; to being completely over all of the bullshit that happens here; to sincerely regretting having said anything at all because I’m an inveterate conflict-avoiding people-pleaser and this all makes me feel horrible and awful. And back again.

I know that they want to keep me here and that gives me an incredible amount of leverage. And if they refuse, then fuck them. I start applying elsewhere. But my asshole anxious brain skips right over the “the worst they can say is no” fact and goes immediately to “OMG EVERYONE HATES YOU NOW YOU ARE GOING TO GET FIRED WHO EVEN ARE YOU TO ACT LIKE YOU DESERVE MORE PAY?”

And then of course when (not if!) I get fired for being an upstart nobody and causing all kinds of drama, everything will immediately go to hell because oh yeah, I’m still suuuuuuuuper reliant on my 9-5 paycheck. But probably even before that happens the ground opens up and swallows me, or I get struck by a righteous bolt of lightning from on high as my punishment for daring to even think about upsetting the status quo, or basically any other horrible thing that could happen.

But. As you can tell by the fact that I’m still posting, I’m not dead yet. Even though every time I think about this or have to send a new email to HR there’s a horrible pit in my stomach and I feel like throwing up. So I’m doing a lot of avoiding thinking about it, and also starting to compose the cover letter for the other internal position in my head because I don’t really have any control over any outcomes at the moment. The conversations haven’t happened. I can, however apply for this other job.

Here’s me walking through the possibilities to make myself feel better

Maybe I’ll get that internal job, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll get it but won’t be able to negotiate a raise (I’m pretty sure this would be a lateral move for me, salary-wise). Maybe in that case I’ll still take it, making it abundantly clear that I’m doing this for the title change.

But then again maybe I don’t accept the job if I get it because while that employee gets paid a decent amount of overtime which helps to make up for the not-stellar salary, that’s more hours spent at work, which isn’t a good thing. And some of those hours are on Saturdays, which obviously cuts down on how often I can work my very necessary second job. I do value the flexibility I have in my current position.

Maybe I’ll stay at my current job and somehow get a raise in addition to a title change. Maybe I only get a title change, but that lets me leave the administrative assistant corner I’ve backed myself into and I take that title somewhere that’s actually willing to pay me.

The worst that could happen

Worst case scenario I get no raise and no title change so literally nothing changes (aside from me feeling like the world’s biggest idiot but I’d get over that eventually). Except then that forces me to get my ass in gear and start applying in earnest elsewhere. I’d still be constrained by the administrative assistant title, but I’ve got a whole lot of duties I can put on my resume that make it clear that title isn’t accurate.

Or I get fired. But that’s unlikely, despite the increasing noise about it from my asshole brain. And if it does happen, I’ve got emergency funds. I’ve got a second job that’s in no way enough to live off of, but is still something more than zero coming in (and with no 9-5 I’d be able to work the occasional weekday shifts that pop up). The coworker who encouraged me last week to start making a fuss would immediately email me with the information of approximately 18 contacts she has around the city and I’d start talking to them.

But I don’t die. A massive hole does not open up in the floor under me and swallow me (do you sense a pattern here? I had fun vertigo issues in middle school where I thought that would happen in the gym at school). It’s winter, so rogue lightning strikes are exceedingly unlikely. I might slip on an icy brick sidewalk and end up in the hospital, but that would be an entirely unconnected incident.

I’m too comfortable

I know in my head that however this ends up, it’s a good thing and I’ll be glad I at least tried. But right now I’m trying to fight the regret that keeps popping up that I started any of this because it would be so much easier if I hadn’t.

This is necessary. I’ve spent a year passively waiting to see what the hell would happen with my job without putting up a fuss about it. That makes people happy to work with me (and happy to give me work), but that does not let them know that I’ve been thinking about this for a long time until all of a sudden it comes up one day (whoops).

I’ve never negotiated a raise, so however this works out, it’s important practice.

Plus, doing hard things and challenging yourself is an important part of life. I can’t honestly say in the course of my day-to-day life that I’m ever actually challenged (particularly difficult barre classes don’t count), and that means I’m not learning and growing.

So as nerve-wracking and horrifyingly difficult as this is, and no matter how much I want to run and hide now that I’ve said anything, this is a good thing. Anxiety is a bitch but the ground isn’t going to open up and swallow me. (Probably.)

This is why this is part one (of an undetermined number)

I had another meeting with HR yesterday afternoon, which was a lot to unpack. I thought I’d be able to write about it, and I did, but the thought of going back over the entire ridiculously long post and staying up way too late to edit it was too much for me to handle. Plus honestly when it’s this late and I’m this tired, it’s hard to tell what I should and shouldn’t include. So you’re getting this part now.

25 Replies to “Doing hard things, part 1: nothing horrible has happened (yet)”

    1. Oh wonderful. Gotta love those situations where you know the “correct” answer isn’t the correct answer but you can’t say anything else ?

  1. I think the most important part here is that you’re not happy with where you’re at, and if you didn’t say anything, you’d just continue to be stuck there. And yeah- if the worst happens, you’re still okay. And I believe you’re scrappy enough you’d find a way to cover all your expenses without your 9-5 regardless. The beauty of a side hustle and low expenses as well as the willingness to do whatever else it takes to make money in between.

    1. Absolutely, I’m in a much better place now if I lose my job than I would’ve been even a few months ago! And you’re right—something had to give because I’m not happy. Whatever happens, it’s at least forward progress of some sort.

  2. This is so awesome and I am psyched for you! I think that despite what your brain might tell you, it’s really going to work out for the best. Plus, like you said, even if it doesn’t quite work out, the most likely worst case scenario is finding yourself in the same place as you were, but with the added experience of stretching yourself and negotiating. Even if that doesn’t lead to more money now, it’ll be super valuable in the future.

    Rooting for you! You got this!

    1. So scary, but yes, it’s nice to no longer be passively sitting around waiting for something to change. Thank you!

  3. Ooooooo, I’m so hooked! I need to know…..Part 2, I’m ready now!! I’ve all my fingers and toes crossed for you. You made all the right moves and I hope you are rewarded for having the nerve to take action!

    1. Hah I’ll be 26 in a few weeks, so I’m not that far behind where you were 😉

      I’m glad to hear you’ve never regretted it, and suspect that’s where I’ll end up as well!

  4. This is so cool Erin, you’re doing the right thing. If you really feel like you’re too comfortable right now deep down inside, then you probably are. And when you get too comfortable, especially if you let it go on too long, you need to do something about it. You are.

    You are the biggest promoter of you, your biggest salesperson, and your biggest cheerleader. It’s like that quote in that old movie Back to School “Always look out for number one, but don’t step in number 2!”

    1. Hahahahaha I haven’t seen that movie, but that’s an excellent line.

      I’m definitely trying to challenge myself more and this is just one of the ways to do that. Guess I’ll have to find something else when this is all said and done (although luckily for me, I don’t have to do that just yet ?)!

  5. I so identify with this, I spent my early career in a megacorp that basically gave standard raises to all…..after moving into consultancy, I still remember my first pay rise call, and the senior manager was shocked at how I just accepted my pay rise…clearly the environment was different here, and I hadn’t realised I was then meant to start advocating for me and outlining my achievements.

    Can’t wait to hear your outcome…

    1. It’s amazing how long it can take to finally realize we have to do this for ourselves. At least the senior manager let you know they were shocked instead of not saying anything and not letting you know that you should be advocating for yourself?

  6. Ugh, pathetically late comment but, I’m so happy you did this! And it’s amazing how the support of other people can embolden you to do things. Sometimes planting a seed or idea is all it takes.

    It sounds like with the tech project you’ve got a real chance of the increase going through. I think they should at least give you the title change, because it costs them nothing, and like you said, that can help you get a better job. And don’t discount the admin asst title. You can totally spin your responsibilities to be more senior.

    Anyway, I’m pretty good at resume stuff, so if you ever want me to take a look at yours, let me know!

    1. Haha a day later is not a pathetically late comment. But this response a week later definitely is!

      I’m so glad I’ve been talking to this coworker because I don’t know if I’d ever had to courage to do this otherwise. And who knows how long my current situation would’ve continued, until I eventually got a new job (for which I likely wouldn’t have negotiated my starting salary either).

      I can spin it into something else, but pretty much every job I’ve held has been some form of “administrative assistant” or another. I want something else on my resume! Thanks for the offer—I might just take you up on it.

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