November 2008


Jan. 2007, I made the New Year’s Resolution to be brave.  For 34ish years, my nature and nurture conspired together to help me live in a life where my decisions were made because they were safe, but not exactly soul-satisfying.  So I compiled a list in my head of all of the things that I caught myself saying “I could never do that” to, and I started doing them.  Many of the items were so benign that I have basically forgotten them, but two that stick in my mind are “get a massage” and “sing in public.”

The massage thing had to do with strange people touching my naked body (body issues). It turns out, though, that not only was getting a naked massage not a big deal (there is draping involved), but I found out that I really don’t like massages – too much pushing and kneading on my muscles hurt, and not in a good way.  I’ll take a facial any day.  But, I got to check it off of the list and move on with life afraid of one less thing.

Also borne from this list was my decision to go to law school.  History will be the judge of whether that was ultimately a good move or not, but all in all, 2007 was a year for growth and stepping out.

Still, 2008 came and I felt that I needed to renew my resolution.  “Be Brave” became “Be Fearless”.  I don’t know if there is a real difference between these two, but it feels like there is a difference.  Bravery, to me, is standing up to demons that scare you.  Fearlessness is actively looking for those demons and confronting them, whether they want to be confronted or not.  My new commitment made me a Bounty Hunter of my fear, but also left me wandering the woods like Harry Potter in Book 7 – searching for what to do next. Like a huge tsunami crashing into a beachside resort, my date with destiny came in the form of the month of September.

If you haven’t noticed by now, I write from a place of anxiety.  When I am angry or worried, I write to sort things out and help me bring order and reason to the unexplainable.  Writing is my catharsis.  The problem with this, however, is that I fail to write when things are going really well.  If I’m not feeling anxious, or more than that – I actually feel good, then I like to bask in the moments and lock them away as memories rather than as words on a page.  The problem is that when I later get worried about decisions that I have made that came from a place of strength and power, I have nothing to go back to that reminds me that I really did think all this through before I jumped off of the ledge.  Ultimately, I end up second-guessing all of these “reckless” decisions and end up right back in my anxious place again.

So, I am making it up to September.  We must capture these feelings of bravery and bravado before the demons eat me whole.

September 8: I Let Go

After months of knowing but hesitating to pull the plug, I officially submitted my resignation to law school.  I thought it would feel liberating or a little scary, but it ended up being a “check the box” move.  I felt completely neutral afterward, which means that I waited too long to do it.  Still, the process of coming to terms with my experiences with law school was not an easy one.  Soon, I will write a series of posts explaining my thought process and research which hopefully will help others with their decisions to stay or go as others in the blogosphere have helped me.

Never underestimate the power of letting go, however.  Once I hit Send on the letter, I felt like I was clearing out some clutter that was keeping me from moving on, and new possibilities made themselves known.

September 11: I Faced Fear in Knee-High Stiletto Boots

One of the things that bugged me is that I never completed Item #1 on my Chicken Shit List — to sing in public.  So, what started out as a plan to practice a song I was comfortable with and sing it in some karaoke bar turned into fronting four hours of music in a band of Brent’s making and performing live at Evangelo’s on Thursday, September 11th.  An ominous date, to be sure.  All my day-of preparation was wrong.  I went to work all day which made me tired for a 9PM – 1AM gig.  I skipped dinner.  I wore my stiletto boots which made me feel like a rock star, but which nearly hobbled me after 2 hours.  I went into “dancer mode” and held my nerves in my core, which is bad for a singer who needs to take deeps breaths all night.  I only realized on Sunday that I hadn’t taken a deep breath since Wednesday (no wonder my voice was completely shot at the end of the night).

For all the bad that happened, apparently we were good enough for the crowd of friends to stay and to drag in about 25 people from the street – a feat for a Thursday night in Santa Fe.  I wouldn’t say I’m any less scared of singing in public, but I feel proud that I had the ovaries to get up on stage and play American Idol for a night.  Plus, I’m still in the band.  I think being fearless takes practice.

September 19: I Asked for What I Wanted

For two years-minus-law school, I have been searching for a new job.  And on September 16th, I was extended an offer from a group at the Lab that I had interviewed with twice.  Government jobs are predictable – there is no guessing on what the position should be paid because they advertise a Minimum-Median-Maximum range for every job they publish.  I was expecting the job offer, and I was expecting it to come in low.  What I wasn’t expecting was for it to be insultingly low.  $10K lower than Median.  85% of Median.    It wasn’t the manager’s fault, really.  The Human Resources department is its own rogue agency.  They put all of my information into a super-secret formula that spits out what I should be offered based on my years of experience, education, previous salary history, etc.  It’s not personal, it’s just business.

The problem for me, though, is that it is personal.  I work very hard for the people that I work for, and no matter what the job is, I give it my all, including my loyalty.  It is who I am.  Extending a fair offer says to me that you have faith in my ability to perform.  A low offer says that you aren’t quite sure, so you don’t want to stick your neck out too far. Plus, there are limitations with working for the government, which include not being able to ask for interim pay raises based on performance and not being able to get a new job in your same pay grade with a raise.  You must maximize your starting salary for greater success down the line – that’s the game.

Therefore, I take being low-balled very personally, and this wasn’t right.  So I called the person who would be my manager.  I explained to her that the offer came in much lower that I expected and asked if we could do better.  After much discussion, she asked how much I wanted.  I said, “Well, I want six-figures, of course.  But I’m a bargain at Median.”

I recently read that one of the problems with the salary inequity between men and women is that men ask for more.  Women don’t.  So, I stepped out of my comfort zone and I asked.

September 22: I Said No

The manager came back from HR with $2K more. I knew that she wanted me over the others that she interviewed (for various reasons I won’t go into here), but I got the impression that she had never had anyone ask for more money before.  $8K below Median was not much of an improvement.  It didn’t even break the 90% of Median threshold.

So I sat with it for awhile.  I thought about how I would feel on the first day on the job, knowing that I was doing work that I was underpaid for.  I thought about the interviews and how the interviewers impressed upon me that this job was not for wusses – “There is not a week that goes by that Debi isn’t insulted by one of the guys on the crew” and “You will be forcing people to comply with policies that are not always in their best interest to follow.”  The job is thankless in many ways.  I calculated how many years it would take (given averages raises) to get to today’s Median mark – 4.2 years.  Then I thought about my Plan B – starting my own business – and how that felt empowering.  Destructive work vs. Constructive work.  The more I thought about it, the bigger the pit in my stomach grew at the prospect of taking the offer.  So I declined it.  And it felt good.  I felt strong and I had no regrets.

Flash Forward to Today

My contract at the Lab ran out, so as of Oct. 29th, I have officially been “self-employed.”  And I am freaking out.  No paycheck, paying for my own health insurance, and being a kept woman.  In a crumbling economy.  None of it feels very good.  These are the times I look back on September and think “Where in the hell did I get all of the optimism and guts to turn down a job offer?” and “Maybe I should have taken that offer and just sucked it up?”  The reality is, though, that I would have hated that job and it would have kept me small.  Better paid, but small.  And somewhere, at some point in the not-so-distant past and for the briefest of moments, I felt like I was better than that.  For a girl who is admittedly glass-half-empty, that is what Fearless looks like.

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Four years ago this morning, my heart sank and my stomach was sick. After living through 4 years of George W. Bush, there seemed to be people who weren’t paying attention.

I love my country.  But this morning, for the first time in 8 long years, I can finally say I am PROUD to be an American.  Not only because we, as a collective people, elected a black man for president, but also because we, as a collective people, seem to have finally made the right decision.  I guess change really is possible.