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Work it! Own it!: Having the guts to get paid what I’m worth

by SweetMidlife

I’m Leslie! I’m worth a lot! I am! I mean it! (Photo: Rissa Miller at Balance Photography)

Leslie here!

I have done a lot of things I’m proud of lately – finishing a half marathon, selling a book, continuing to keep my child alive. But my biggest recent personal accomplishment was telling a nice old lady that I couldn’t speak to her nice old lady organization because they couldn’t pay me enough. And I felt OK about it.

More than OK. I feel darn good about it.

I love speaking. Not just in general, as I am super verbose and don’t shut the hell up, but also in formal settings, where I say pithy, moving things about everything from widowhood to local places to eat to whatever the hell’s going on with newspapers these days (That’s a whole other thing.) I’ve been speaking everywhere imaginable, from schools to retirement communities to libraries, for years now, and the more I’ve spoken , my skill, as well as my stature in my community, have increased and improved.

And when that happens, the conventional wisdom is that you’re worth more. Which means that if you charge for your services, which I do, you should get paid more. That’s the way things work, and if you’re serious about being a business person and being paid for the professional thing that you’re good at, you have to do the jobs that correspond to your worth. This means beginning to turn down the ones that aren’t, because you have to look out for yourself. I’ve been having the same conversation about this with my sister and another friend for years now. It’s about how as growing business people, particularly as women that people like, those people sometimes expect you to cut them a break, to give them a discount. I mean, everyone likes a discount, and believe me I get plenty of them, and I’m grateful.

But the truth is that if everyone gets a discount, that discount is now your price. I’m not established enough or rich enough to be giving stuff away for free. I’ve been a reporter for 25 years, a regular speaker for about 15, and I’m about to be a published author. When the paper I work for used to have a speakers bureau, they provided reporters like myself to the community for free and paid us $40 for the time, which seemed like gravy – the job I loved provided me some extra cash and the people I spoke to were nice and sometimes even gave me a bagel.

But that was a long time ago, and I’m worth more, although even saying that sometimes sounds ungrateful due to the conditioning nice girls like me get to feel bad about asking for what we’re worth.¬†My price is now several times than what I used to get. I still want my bagel, tho.¬†Knowing that, of course, is easier than making that happen.

Which came to mind very recently while standing outside of a fancy cocktail bar on a recent girls trip confirming to that very nice older lady that I would not be able to speak to her group. I kind of already knew that- when she’d contacted me a week earlier, already apologetic that her group had a small budget, the number she’d come up with was very, very small. Being a nice grandmother type well practiced in the art of subtle guilt, she’d floated the idea that even though I’m important and busy, perhaps I had some special affinity for her group and would be willing to give them a discount. I do love her group, but again, if you keep giving everybody discounts, the discount is your price. So I saw her grandmother guilt and raised her one case of widowed single mother who needs the money. She appreciated that. But then she said something else.

“Well, obviously. But also you work really hard and you’re worth what you’re asking. We just really wanted you to come. I’ll check with the board and let you know.”

Well, wow. The lady who had asked for a discount was letting me off the hook because she wanted me to know that while she might not be able to afford me, I was worth what I was asking. SHE KNEW THAT. So I had to, too.

The call on my girls trip was to let me know that the board, although really into me coming to speak to them, was unable to come up with the money. I could have sworn that there was the slightest pause to allow me to say “That’s OK! I’ll do it anyway because it’s you!” But if there was, the moment passed, and I told her I was so sorry it didn’t work out but that I’d let her know when I was speaking in the area.

As I hung up and went back to my drink I felt both pleased with myself and pathetic that I thought I needed a cookie to stand up for myself, to ask permission to get paid. It’s stupid. I’m told all day long that I’m awesome. I might as well believe it. It’s not that I’ve never been kicked in the proverbial teeth – see the part about being a widowed single mother – but as things get better, healing continues and my book gets closer to release, I have to embrace not only my awesomeness but my worth. I’m hardworking. I’m good at what I do. And I’m worth it.

Hear that, Leslie? You’re worth it.


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