Thursday, September 08, 2011

i am not an angry girl

I'm currently trying to resolve an issue at work that requires me to advocate for myself.  Since it's not sorted out yet, I won't post details, but it's making me think about that uneasy, uncomfortable feeling I get when I don't do what's expected of me.

I've always been a rule follower.  I don't know if that comes from my personality of not being much of a risk taker, or the fact that I'm Asian American and was raised to respect authoritay.  Maybe it's a combination of both, plus the need to please and to be good that I think girls and women are pressured into.  For whatever reason, deep down in my psyche, it makes me REALLY uncomfortable to rock the boat.

I've run into this feeling a lot in my life, because sometimes my need to do things differently outweighs my discomfort from rocking the boat.  And I can't recall a time where I regretted taking action - in fact, doing so often resulted in a great outcome. 

Like negotiating with my company when I got my offer from them back in 2002.  The offer was great:  no travel, a sizable pay raise, better benefits, relocation.  So I figured I should just be happy with what I got, right?  Add to this the fact that at my previous company, I just took the offer they gave me.  It didn't even occur to me to ask for more, since they were going to pay me *much* more than I was making as a lowly grad student.  Sigh.

Wouldn't I seem "greedy" and "ungrateful" asking for more?  A friend of mine pointed out that all future raises and bonuses would be based on my salary, and thus it would be advantageous to start as high as I could.  So I put on my big girl pants, wrote out what I wanted, practiced it a million times, held my breath and called my recruiter.

And from that short conversation, I got: an additional cash allowance for moving Peanut up to Seattle, some more stock options (ah, those were the days!), an increase to my signing bonus, and a little more salary.  The discomfort?  Totally worth it and my career has reaped the benefits.

So the next few times I had to do this, it got easier.  Now I wouldn't even think of taking a new offer without negotiating for a little more.  Why waste all that good leverage? ;)

But, that confidence still doesn't translate into other situations where I need to advocate for myself.  I think old habits die hard.  So last week when I had to approach my bosses about reducing my work schedule because I was at a breaking point, I fretted about it.  Would they think I was a flake?  Not worth the hassle?  A waste of a team member?  It would appear not, since they granted my request immediately.  Like, 5 minutes after I started talking.  We didn't even get around to reviewing the fancy written proposal I put together.

I think this is something that takes practice.  In the same bucket is learning to say 'No' to things that aren't important and relevant to my goals and priorities.  A couple of times folks at work wanted to set up time with me to chat about something I had posted on a social mailing list.  Sometimes I'm ok with this, when my schedule is more free, or on a day when I'm home and can bring BabyT along.  But a lot of times, I've just had to decline and tell them I'll answer specific questions via email.

And once, a coworker who I respect highly asked me to consider a volunteer opportunity outside of work for a very worthy cause.  It sounded great, but just the idea of adding another thing to my packed schedule made my heart race.  I was able to decline, hopefully gracefully.  She still speaks to me, so I assume it was cool :).

Back to the pending work issue.  This issue means I'll miss a deadline.  And that in itself bugs me.  It bugged me all night last night when I was trying to figure out how to move forward.  But on my commute into work (all 15 minutes that included stops at Starbucks and the post office), I formulated a plan:  check w/ my manager on my course of action, set up a necessary meeting, and then let the people who manage the deadline know that I wasn't going to make it.  I sorted all those things out, and felt... peace.  My situation isn't resolved, but now it's out of my hands.  The right "next action" meeting is set up, I got no response about missing the deadline (in this case I'm going to assume no news = ok news) and my manager's got my back.

What I hope to teach my daughter is that she isn't expected to please everyone else.  I want her to have the confidence to do what SHE wants in life, not what people expect her to do.  And man is that hard, already, and she's not even 2.

We start with the small things now - if she doesn't want to go to someone, she doesn't have to.  If she doesn't answer questions other people ask her, that's cool.  One of the most interesting and influential parenting books I've read is Naomi Aldort's "Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves".  Yes, it's as hippie as it sounds but really brilliant in making me think differently.

In this book, she addresses those exact things.  And in fact, she believes even older children shouldn't have to answer intrusive adult questions if they don't want to talk.  That surprised me a little, given how important it was when I was a kid, to be polite and respectful to adults and answer the litany of questions that were inevitable, though tiresome.  (How old are you? What grade are you in? What's your favorite subject? blah blah blah.)

So it really makes me think about what it means to be "polite" and where I want those boundaries to be when I'm raising T.  I definitely don't want her to be deliberately hurtful to people, but I don't want her to feel *responsible* for other peoples' feelings either.   I want her to be comfortable with who she is and chase her dreams and stand up for herself and minimize worrying about what other people think or gasp! what's "acceptable" or "expected" in our culture.  I'm not sure how to get there, but we'll start with the small stuff.

I wonder if that will make it easier for her to negotiate a good starting salary. Heh, I guess I'll find out in 20 years or so...


  1. Argh. I totally feel your pain. I've only been brave enough to negotiate a salary a couple of times. Each of those times the new job wasn't a necessity. I wasn't desperate yet.

  2. I am really REALLY not brave, and it seems like my oldest has inherited this trait from me. *sigh* I don't know how to fix it, because it honestly just feels like a part of me (and him) that will always be that way.

  3. @Jenn - I know what you mean about it being easier when you're not desperate! But really, HR EXPECTS us to negotiate. And you did it for your new car - it's the same sort of thing.

    @ssm - yeah, BabyT is too little for me to figure out her personality yet, but I'm seeing glimpses of it and I know she's inherited my extreme cautiousness. So I plan to really work with her on being just a little bit brave. It's working with some of the small stuff, like getting her to TRY going down stairs standing up, or taking the last couple of stairs without holding my hand, etc. We'll keep practicing.


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